My daughter is 14, plays soccer and basketball, and is currently in 8th grade. In soccer, she plays on a high-level premier team and on the U14 state Olympic Development Program team. In basketball, she plays for her school and AAU. She is a straight A student, outgoing and friendly. In sports she plays hard (and has the injuries to prove it) and is very competitive. Coaches characterize her as a very good athlete, motivated and committed. Coaches constantly preach/plead her to take a more active role in the games. She will tell you that she is the best practice player. But at game time, she’s not consistent. She often is content with just contributing and not making a mistake and therefore does not play up to her ability. What would you suggest in this situation?
Dr. Cohn’s Answer:
This is a very common issue with athletes who are afraid of failing. Athletes with “fear of failure” are usually very hard-working and want to win badly, but are afraid to make mistakes and lose the game. It’s Ironic that athletes who want to win so badly are the most afraid of losing or making mistakes. This causes them to have an avoidance mindset instead of an aggressive mindset. They play tentatively and sometimes appear (from an observer’s perspective) as if they are not trying or are not aggressive.
They sometimes play tentative because they are afraid to make mistakes for fear of how it may look to others or for fear of losing. Your first step is to identify what the real fear is for her when she competes. For example, she may be afraid to take charge in a game for the fear of losing the game or making errors and then worry about her teammates not liking her or accepting her (which is a false assumption on her part typically). This is just one example of a fear that may be affecting her mindset. Talk with her and find out what the ultimate fear is and you may unlock her potential.
Once you find this out, you can then help her focus on what she should do instead of what she should not do. Give her specific tasks to focus on for success such as making quality passes and define what this means.
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