During our initial phone consultation a potential client and parent will often ask me how they can tell if their child is improving in their sport. Unfortunately the answer to that question is not simple. The answer is not tied to quantifiable things like number of wins, ranking, or placement. Improvement shows up first as a quality like increased confidence and then with practice that confidence builds.
Parents Should Look for These Improvements
This is a good conversation for us to have. Why? Many parents get stuck praising their child for wins and ranking. I think that’s one reason why they hope there’s a visible outcome when their child works with me. We all get excited about winning and moving up the ranks, but the outcome can’t be the focus. Kids need to learn to stay focused on the process.
What will you see and hear when your child is working with me on their mental skills? When we focus on the mental side of sports, your child will experience an increase in confidence. They will have a better sense of being able to do the thing they want to do. A better ability to deal with nerves and anxiety. They will be less focused on the outcome and more focused on the process. They will talk more positively about themselves and their performance and be less critical. Less focused on others and more focused on themselves.
Learning Takes Time
Learning mental skills doesn’t translate into more wins or a better ranking but learning them, practicing them, and getting better at them usually does. This takes an estimated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Funny that as soon as we learn something, we think we should be an expert. We think, “I learned a new skill, and next competition I am going to be perfect at it.” Really? No! When an athlete learns something new and during the next practice they don’t achieve perfection, that is not cause for alarm. Understand that it just doesn’t work that way. It may take several practice sessions, months, or years to become good at something, and to be better than good takes 10,000 hours of consistent work.
When we are learning something new, we practice what works and continue to reinforce it. Physically we may not ‘perfect’ it for 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Mentally, it doesn’t take that long, but it does take deliberate practice over time. There’s a process to everything we do.
How Parents Can Support Their Children
What should the focus be? Physical and mental effort and improvement. Acknowledge your child for what they are doing right versus what they are doing wrong or what they need to fix. Say, “I see that you’ve been working really hard on X (physical or mental skill).”
When you hear a child being hard on themselves, ask them questions about that. In your questioning, ask, “What makes you feel this way? Where does this come from?” Tie it back to the conversation about what your child is doing right.