The Pressure of Expectations for Kids

Goals not Expectations Are Good for Kids

It’s important to go into a competitive season with realistic goals. They will motivate and focus young athletes.

Sports kids should not go into a season with super high expectations. That will make them feel pressured, anxious and distracted.

Let’s compare goals and expectations. Goals are well defined, measurable and attainable. Kids can adjust goals if they reach them before the end of the season, adding new objectives.

They can also adjust them if they are grappling with unexpected circumstances such as injuries. For example, they might need to extend the date for accomplishing a goal.

While goals are adjustable, expectations generally are not.

Expectations tend to be rigid. They sound like “I have to…” “I must…” “I need to…”

When it comes to expectations, there is no flexibility. No matter the circumstance, the expectation remains the same.

Expectations generate tension, anxiety and pressure–feelings that undermine athletes’ performance.

When young athletes with unrealistic expectations experience adversity, they become devastated and feel like failures.

All athletes experience some degree of adversity–but not all respond in the most appropriate way.

Athletes with realistic goals feel they still have some degree of control and can alter their objectives in a way that keeps them working toward something positive.

If athletes work toward well-defined, measurable, attainable and adjustable objectives, they are more likely to stay motivated, confident and positive as they grapple with adversity.

High expectations can cause problems when athletes face adversity.

High expectations and injury derailed Philadelphia Sixers’ forward Zhaire Smith in his 2018-19 rookie season.

Smith was selected as the sixteenth overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 2018 NBA draft, then immediately traded to the Sixers. The Sixers had hopes that Smith would be able to contribute to a playoff run.

Smith had high expectations for his first year in the NBA. However, that pressure led him to play tight and hesitantly last pre-season. He was also derailed by a fracture in his foot and an allergic reaction.

Smith played in only eight games during the year. But he has changed his perspective for the upcoming year and is focused on doing little things to help the team.

“I’m coming in, 16th pick, first-rounder. I’m coming in like, ‘I’m going to drop 30.’ But this year, I’m like, ‘Let’s just have fun and have the game come to me, do the little things and help the team win,’” he said.

Help Young Athletes Set Goals

Before each season, young athletes should write down their goals for the season. Help sports kids make sure their goals are realistic and attainable by the end of the season.

Kids need to understand that goals are fluid. That means goals are not etched in stone and can be adjusted, if necessary.

With sound goals, kids can maintain high levels of confidence, stay focused and sustain their motivation through the season.

Help kids ask themselves, “Realistically, can I accomplish THIS within the time constraints of this season?”

They should consult with their coach or mental game coach and write down specific, attainable, measurable goals for the season and a plan of action.

If adversity strikes, they should re-evaluate with coaches and adjust goals if necessary.

And kids need to identify the high expectations that spark pressure and frustration. They should commit to letting go of these expectations and focus on small, manageable, process goals.

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