In youth sports, no two events are alike. The score, the mistakes, the opponents, the weather, the officials, and how your child feels are all variables that influence the youth sports event experience and make each one unique.
However, even though there’s no way for you to know what each competition will look like, coaches and parents can set goals for what each athlete needs to leave the event knowing. So, no matter how many mistakes were made, how good or bad the score was, how rude the opponents were, or how seemingly unfair the officials were–those are the variables–your athletes need to leave the event knowing truths that are NOT variables. They need to be told again and again, that no matter what happens, THIS is truth and that will never change.
What are those variables that young athletes need to know?
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1. We are a team.
Win or lose, mistakes and all–the athletes need to know that they play, win and lose as a team. A loss or a win is never one person’s fault.
2. The mistakes I made don’t define me.
Slumps and bad games happen to every athlete; they don’t make your child a bad athlete. The problem is that one mistake gets into an athlete’s head and that only leads to more mistakes. Help your players or your children know that mistakes happen, and they are for learning; they do not define you as an athlete or a person, for that matter.
My kids were very hard on themselves after games where they made mistakes. My job was not to agree or critique or coach; my job was to listen and move them away from beating themselves up over it.
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3. I can and will keep working to improve.
Your child needs to know that they have believers–coaches, parents, and teammates who believe they will keep working hard to get better and who have faith that they will improve in their game-playing skills.
You’ve got this!
You’ll get it!
I believe in you!
These are all truths your young athlete needs to hear often because their tendency will be to put themselves down and get discouraged.
4. My parents love me no matter how I play.
I suppose I shouldn’t even have to write that one, but the truth is that many parents may believe it and yet are not intentional about communicating it. Don’t wonder if your child knows; be sure they know!
5. My coach believes in me.
When an athlete feels their coach does not believe, their game takes a huge hit. I understand that a coach may struggle to really believe in a child–my husband was a coach for 29 years and I saw him struggle with that–but no matter what, you must let the athlete know that you do believe they can do their job; after all, you let them on the team, so you must have some confidence in them.
Believing in a child means letting them work through mistakes and not pulling them out of a game because of one or two errors. It means giving them a chance to try something in the game that you’re not sure about, but that they are sure about. It means entrusting them with leadership. It means helping them play to their strengths. It means seeing them as a person, not just an athlete.
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6. I am going to be okay.
Your child needs to know that no matter what happened in the game, life goes on and they really will survive it and be okay. There is always tomorrow. There will always be another game.
Kids that know they will be okay are kids who understand that they are not defined by their athletic performance or even by playing sports. They are defined by who they are, on and off the field or court. Then, and only then will your child know that win or lose, they will be okay.