What do you do when your child has a youth sports meltdown? You probably feel helpless as you sit and watch from the sidelines.
I know that powerless feeling of sitting in the bleachers, watching my child tank, knowing that there was not a single thing I could do to help.
That may be true during the game situation, but there are ways parents can help their kids avoid youth sports meltdowns. A lot of it starts with you, Mom and Dad. You have the power to help or hinder your child’s mental toughness.
This week’s post is written and sponsored by Brian Marentette from Sports Mentalytics, a company which provides assessment tools that deliver insights and offer solutions for individual athletes or teams. Brian holds a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology and is an expert in the field of performance management and the assessment of mental skills and abilities.
He shares with sports parents five suggestions for helping your young athlete build mental toughness and avoid meltdowns.
Instill confidence, but be honest
Confidence is a major part of mental toughness. If your athlete has a particularly poor performance, he usually knows it. Don’t say something vague like, “You are still a great basketball player in my mind.” Instead, try to find something very specific that he did well. Maybe it was a single shot that he made.
If your athlete has low confidence, ask him questions that will help him think and feel what it was like to be at his best. Things like, “Remember that game where you didn’t get beat once on defense? What were you doing so well?” The idea is to get him reflecting on his best performances.
Focus your praise on effort
When possible, praise your athlete when he shows a strong effort, even if he didn’t play very well.
When your athlete knows that his effort greatly influences his performance, he will approach a difficult opponent with a more positive mindset, because even if his opponent is more talented, he knows that his effort can make can make up the difference.
Conversely, when your athlete believes that his talent controls his performance, he may hesitate when approaching a difficult opponent and may even give up before the game even starts.
Mentally tough athletes understand that they can always rely on a strong effort to get them through a tough situation.
Have a process for dealing with mistakes or poor performances
Mistakes and bad performances are going to happen. Mentally tough athletes move on quickly from poor performances and use them to become stronger.
Work with your athlete to make sure he has a process for dealing with mistakes and bad performances. In general, ensure that he is able to learn from the situation, does not continue to dwell on it, and can begin focusing on the next play or the next competition.
Creating a simple routine can help. For example, in a sport like ice hockey, your athlete can engage in a routine in between shifts. Have your athlete take five seconds to quickly analyze what happened, then take ten seconds to visualize himself doing it the right way, then five seconds to focus on the next shift. This type of routine varies by sport and time available, but can be done in any sport.
Be sure your athlete knows how to deal with stress
Being able to manage the body’s response to stress is vital to mental toughness. Mentally tough athletes use adrenaline to raise their performance. But some athletes have a negative response to adrenaline: a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky limbs and lack of focus.
Help your athlete manage stress with a prepared response. Breathing techniques are a great way to control the response to adrenaline. Have him practice a relaxation breathing routine. He should breathe in slowly through his nose for seven seconds then out through his mouth slowly for 10 seconds; repeat this five times. When your athlete faces a stressful event, he can engage this technique.
Encourage challenging situations
In order to become mentally tough, your athlete has to experience challenging situations repeatedly and succeed, or fail and recover, to succeed in the future. Mental toughness takes time to develop through experience. As your athlete becomes more familiar and comfortable with challenges, stress, mistakes, and other negative events, he will see difficult situations as opportunities to succeed, rather than something to avoid. Do not shy away from letting your athlete face challenge and defeat.