Sports pressure.

So gone are the days when we say to our children go and have fun and play some sport. And instead we may as well say to our children “what sport shall I put you in so that you can experience pressure and become miserable?”

I hope that statement has had an impact on you. For this is what comes walking through my clinic.  I see children because of the pressure of sports. It’s amazing that I hear parents say to me that they offer all the love support but don’t know what’s happened to my child.  I don’t doubt that parents have great intentions.  I’m rather certain they do.  Whatever is going on with our children however is widespread.  Let’s see what we can do about it and let’s see how we can shape our children so that they don’t continue to fall into this trap.  Im wondering how much of this trap is the “mindset trap”.  

Kids don’t get to enjoy the game. 

Kids don’t get to enjoy the game anymore. How can they enjoy the game when it is so focused on just winning. They also become focused on retaliating. Games are full of anger these days. Children are running around chasing balls or swinging rackets or batting or bouncing balls or whatever it is that they are doing, and in the background they can hear that roaring criticizing voice (which you may think now, am I talking about the inner critic?) No, I’m not talking about the inner critic. I’m talking about the yelling and the criticisms entering their ears. The children can hear this mostly coming from parents and so-called supporters. Lucky for rules in some schools, where parents are not allowed to scream and yell along the sideline. 

This makes things better than most schools that allow parents to scream at the sideline. But then again, what happens after the game?  What information is communicated to the child on the way home, or at the dinner table? It’s amazing to watch when you see parents lose control and just display such frustration and anger at their child. Do they not know that the child catches glimpses of this and that  they are torn between the game and what they will receive as a consequence from parental verbal expression after the game, or during half time?

Careful the language that you choose. It’s not good enough to be that worst version of yourself and then every so often give your child encouragement or pride. Unfortunately we tend to remember the criticisms, instead of the good stuff. That’s just how the brain is wired.

Kids are not enjoying the game so much any more. I know this because they tell me in my clinic. They are speaking ill of their team mates and passing around blame. So I hold workshops on sportsmanship and I’m trying to install values back into the game. I try and teach children to congratulate their own team and the opposition where necessary. Children should be concerned for their team mates and if they see a member of the other team injured themselves this is not a time for celebration. It could’ve been them or one of their members. Why have children learned to become like this and where did this attitude /or mindset come from?

Sure we all want to win but the most important thing is walking away from the game having had a great game win or lose. Play your best.

The court, pool or the field, is not a battleground ,nor is it a place to practice anger. Rather it’s a place to practice how to best use your emotions and to find ways to exercise control.

It’s all about winning 

So it’s all about winning. Is it? So it’s not about playing and having a good time? Don’t we know that one team needs to lose? Isn’t it about playing well? So kids learn if I score a goal dad will give me $10, kids learn if I come first I get this as a reward. Do you not find something wrong with these incentives. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with these innocent and playful incentives.  It’s only really a problem when it becomes a problem yes?  Doesn’t it seem strange that children are doing it for their parents rather than for the love of the game or with the passion of the sport. Do we really need to suffer the entire weekend if we lose a game. Do we need to mope around and fall into a place of sadness? Is it an excuse to become angry and volatile?

It’s just a game, it feels great to win but it should feel even better to play well. I wish they would include games with everyone as winners, no parents screaming on the sideline, now wouldn’t that make a difference to the child’s well being.  Or will this just confuse us all?

What message are we sending our children with the language that we use towards them. Why is it that adults pretend they are the players, and to live their sporting careers which are obsolete, through the child.

All parents are becoming referees. 

And parents becoming referees. If they would stick to the job role then this would not be a problem. But there is a skill in being a referee. First you need to disassociate from the fact that you may have a child in the team. You need to disassociate that you may have  conflict with another parent and therefore treat their child’s differently too. I hear it all the time, how political it is and all the parents become the politicians. Let the children play, let the children not witness all of this, so that they can play freely.

Children are feeling the pressure, children are becoming miserable, children are fighting with each other, children are tired and children are losing the love of the sport.

What can we do to change this what type of education do parents need. How can we make  children more resilient. I often tell the story about the two turtles that are having a race climbing up the mountain and they are forever being told that the mountain is too high and that they won’t make it. And that they should give up. Eventually one does give up and the other one makes it to the top. Meanwhile all of the crowd down below were screaming for him to give up, and that it was too hard to get to the top. The only reason why this turtle had made it to the top was because he was deaf.

It’s not enough to tell kids to ignore parents screaming, kids are not deaf. I haven’t quite mastered the skill: in one ear and out the other. I was once at a game, with a child with additional needs. It was the most beautiful game to watch because I saw the team members of both sides be extremely considerate to this boy who was challenged with additional needs. It soothed the atmosphere and it filled the air with goodness. We were so proud to watch the kids behave this way. They did not care about winning. I don’t even know who won. I just remember such acts of kindness.

But let’s stick to the fact that there is so much pressure on kids in sports.  What type of parenting would benefit the child after the game.  After all, it is important that our kids learn to cope with competition.

Reconsider post game victories.  Your idea is great, you are in the mindset of celebrating a great result, but your child may interpret it as something you expect to keep you happy.  Your words are much more important e.g. “I noticed the effort you put into your game” “I really enjoyed watching you play”.  These comments are more about what actually matters. 

Let me suggest that if you want to discuss the game afterwards, its best to wait till the next day (I even recommend a full day later) because it takes time for the emotions to settle.

Its not really your job as a parent /guardian to make things better if they lose.  See it as an opportunity for learning.  Experiencing and feeling loss is part of it.  They learn risks, success, failures and more, so keep their environment safe for them.

Carefully choose your language so that your children can be influenced in a positive way.  Encourage them to embrace the moment, and to acknowledge within themselves and amongst one another that there will be multiple opportunities.  I know it’s a difficult thing but to better handle pressure, one must let go of winning.  Stay focussed on the process.

Remember we suggest exercise and hence sports for stress release, but please be aware that competition whether amongst teams or within one self, can often increase stress, worry, and even excitement.

Let me finish however on some positive sides of playing sport.  Firstly its great for motor and cognitive skills.  It teaches about teamwork, and if it’s a sole sport, there is self team work too. It’s a great way of promoting exercise, and hopefully create a healthy relationship with exercise in the coming years.  And it is a wonderful social opportunity.

Let sport be what it should.  Sure there is a time for intensity and a time for muck around.  But what does it cost you and your child in terms of stress.  Don’t forget to feel good.  How can we feel good?  What do we need to bring back? Have we forgotten about the enjoyment?  Well I hope this short read did something for you now.  I hope there is one small change that you can make to help your child improve their mindset when it comes to sport.  

Amanda Dounis

Positive Thinking Clinic

1/7 Magdalene Terrace

Wolli Creek, 2205

0458 850 850