Two ways for your young athlete to face pain

By Janis Meredith | Posted 10/8/2018

Is your young athlete facing pain right now? Maybe they are not getting the playing time they want, having trouble getting along with teammates, at odds with their coach or disappointed with their own performance.

The pain of disappointments and frustrations are inevitable in youth sports and you are left with a choice: How will you help your child get through those painful times? You can either teach them pain avoidance or pain processing.

Pain Avoidance

Parents who use the pain avoidance technique are quick to be the fixers, rescuers and protectors of their children. When your kids are small, this is a good thing because there’s a lot they need to be protected from.

Obviously, if your child is in deep pain, physically or emotionally, you will do your best to protect them from that. However, the pain I’m talking about is more of the inconvenient pain. The pain that comes when things are not easy. The pain from failure, frustration, rejection or setbacks.

That type of pain cannot always be avoided and as a parent, you are raising kids to avoid pain if you are continually defaulting to, “How can I fix this for my child?”

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Another way parents lean toward pain avoidance with their kids is to vilify others. For some reason, the pain feels more manageable when you find someone else to blame for the situation. However, blaming never resolves the underlying issue.

I’m not saying you should seek pain for pain’s sake. I’m saying that always reverting to pain avoidance as a parenting technique will stunt your child’s emotional strength and growth. How will they face pain when you are not around to fix it if you are always fixing it for them now?

Pain Processing

Why is it so important for parents to help their kids process pain instead of avoiding it?

Quite frankly, it’s because pain is unavoidable in life and the sooner your young athlete understands that hard truth and knows how to work through it, the better prepared they will be for the trials of life ahead.

Pain processing means you must work on clear, honest and consistent communication in your family. It takes work to have this type of dialog, but it’s so important that you must not give up easily.

Pain processing means you are empathetic with your kids’ hurts without vilifying others. Without trash-talking the coach, teammate or official.

Pain processing means you let your kids vent — you ask open questions that help them process — and you don’t automatically offer a solution to their problem. You allow them space to verbalize, think and then if they are still struggling, you offer some thoughts and suggestions.

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There is a fine line in parenting: helping your kids to see through the right lens, without telling them what to see. Pain processing doesn’t mean you let your kids figure it out alone. It means you listen and offer thoughts as they process it.

Processing My Son’s Football Pain

When my son was a junior in high school, he was backup quarterback on the varsity team. After two years as a starter on the freshman and then the JV squad, this was a hard pill for him to swallow. I remember vividly the pain he went through that year.

I desperately wanted to fix it for him. I wanted to talk to the coach, I wanted to encourage him to quit.

But instead, I’d sit on the family room couch and listen to him talk. I listened to his frustrations, told him I was sorry and encouraged him to not give up. I don’t know if I said anything very profound that helped him, but what I do know is that I listened, loved and watched him fight through it. We did talk about his options — and we did offer our insight — but those did not push him toward avoiding the pain. They encouraged him instead to process it himself.

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My son is 28 now and since then, he’s had to go through numerous painful seasons. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the foundation of how to process pain was laid in those youth sports years.

You have a choice, parents. Will you give your child the tools to process pain in the future by helping them process it now? Or will you rescue them from everything that is difficult just to see them happy now?

Janis B. Meredith is a parenting coach. She provides resources to help parents raise champions. Learn more about how she can help parents Raise Champions.