Many athletes base their self-worth on how successful they feel in their sport. I saw this in my own kids. After they played a good game, they were confident and happy. But after a game when they didn’t play as well or when their team lost, they were often sullen and didn’t want to talk about it. For many kids, this carries over to the next day when they dread facing the ridicule of school or team mates. As parents, it’s easy for us to tell them that their self-esteem should be based on who they are as people instead of how well they perform in their sport. But as we all know, kids may hear us, but they are not always letting the truth sink in. How can you help your athlete keep from falling into this demoralizing self-esteem trap?
Step 1: Respect It all starts with respect. A rather simple concept, but one that we tend to overlook as we seek out psychological insights and self-help techniques to build up our kids’ low self-esteem. Treat your children the way you want to be treated. Model respect. Conversely, if you demean or humiliate them because they make a mistake in the game or don’t play well, they will end up resenting you and perhaps even hating the sport.
Step 2: Avoid Comparisons Parents often make the mistake of comparing siblings or athletes. In an effort to motivate, they are actually killing motivation by making athletes feel badly. Not only that, they are encouraging intra-squad and sibling rivalries.
Step 3: Challenge, not threaten If you really want kids to stretch themselves, you have to challenge them. As you encourage them to go for it and tell them you believe in them, it nurtures their self-esteem. Threats, on the other hand, crush self-esteem and pave the way for unhealthy relationships between you and your child.
Step 4: Constructive use of mistakes and setbacks Setbacks and mistakes are opportunities for athletes to grow and improve. Your child should never be embarrassed or humiliated because he failed or made a competitive error. When you provide an environment where he feels safe and knows it is okay to not be perfect, you encourage him to take risks. If you jump down your child’s throat whenever he messes up, you teach him to be paranoid about his mistakes, and that diminishes self-esteem.
Step 5: Separate the individual from the group Parents should not single out kids in front of a group when they make a mistake. When you are chatting about the game with other parents and kids, talk about the team as a whole when it comes to mistakes. If you feel it is necessary to confront your child about his error, do it in private.
Step 6: Positive reinforcement Kids need lots of positive reinforcement. They should be praised for good effort first, and then performance. Be specific with your praise: You’re a good team player. You really hustled! That was a great play! Be careful, however, from going overboard. Too much of a good thing loses its power. Make sure your positive feedback is sincere and meaningful, not flippant.
Step 7: Stay away from Pigeon-holing Just because a kid is short doesn’t mean he can’t play basketball. Some of the most aggressive high school players I’ve seen play were under 6 foot. And just because someone is heavier doesn’t mean he can’t move fast. I’ve seen bigger athletes that can move very quickly. For many kids, body image is a major contributor to a low self-esteem. You can help them accept themselves by not putting a label on them that refuses to even give them a chance. Instead of focusing on body type, focus on skills, athleticism and hustle.
Step 8: Recognize the learning process Low self-esteem is learned. Simply telling a kid to “get over it” will not do the trick. Good self-esteem grows through personal experiences and positive feedback from parents, coaches, and peers. If your child suffers from low self-esteem, be patient. The length of the process to gaining self-esteem is unique to each individual, but it is definitely something that can be changed for the better with your consistent love and positive guidance.