Goals SportsParents Should Have Raising a Great Team Player

by Stephen Walker, PhD and Alec Baker, PsyD

“The most important reason that kids play sports is because it’s fun.  When it stops being fun, they’ll stop wanting to play, and they’ll stop learning.” – Harry Sheehy

Parents have a huge impact on the quality of their sports kid’s experience.  This article is designed to make the point – there is more to life than sports, and, there is more to sports than sports.  There is no substitute for your child knowing that he or she is your champion, that whatever they do, however they perform, you LOVE THEM unconditionally.  They WANT to please you, but the more they concentrate on YOU, the less they learn about themselves and the lessons that sport can give them.

1)  Good fortune comes when Preparation Meets Opportunity – “What about Preparation?”

For your child: “Effort” is measurable, it is observable, it is volitional – To support your team you must show up, then you must try, there is no greater loss than when someone quits on you.  Nothing great happens without enthusiasm.

For you: Try to be completely honest about your athlete’s ability level, their competitive attitude, and actual skill level.  When you appreciate them for who they are – win or lose – encourage their efforts and are not disappointed in them….you allow them to do their best without a fear of failing you. Be the person in their life they can look up to for constant positive reinforcement…learn to hide your feelings if they disappoint you.  These both requires preparation.

2)  Goals are the Building Blocks to Success – The Only Difference Between a Goal and a Dream is the Plan for Getting There.

For your child:  It is really helpful if they understand the difference between Process goals vs. Outcome goals.  An outcome is winning the Superbowl, a process goal is improving your time in the 40 yard dash by 2 tenths of a second.

John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach used to emphasize the importance of team first – Team Goals must supercede individual goals – and there is absolutely no feeling that surpasses what you experience when you achieve goals as a team.

For you:  When you are assessing your athlete’s ability level honestly, you understand the many skills required to be successful at higher levels.  Malcolm Gladwell speaks extensively on the “10,000 hours” required for mastery in his book Outliers  (a great read)… You can help your child work on each of those skills just by playing with them.  “Playing with” is a whole lot different than “competing against” them.

3)  Be Helpful, don’t “coach” them on the way to the gym, rink, or field…or on the way back…at dinner… Timing your questions for your Athlete is more important than you might think.  Some are better Now – and – some for Later

Remember your child has no escape when they are trapped in the car listening to you review every aspect of their play, their attitude etc.  This is the quickest way to diminish your athlete’s “Love of the Game.”  Let the coaches instruct – and keep your role to – support.

The 3 questions every parent should ask their child after a contest is:  1) Did you have fun?   2) What do you remember about the game?   3) What will you be working on next?

The 3 questions you will be TEMPTED TO ASK – but should save for later.  1) Did you win?    2) How did you play?   3) How much did your coach play you?

4)  Good Sportsmanship is Reacting to a Critical Situation in a manner that builds up yourself and your team in a Positive Way.  Teach them to enjoy the thrill of competition, to give it their best, work to improve their skills and attitudes…and to take the bumps, bruises and come back for more.

 Remember when you were a kid athlete – you were frightened sometimes, you backed off at times, you weren’t always heroic, you fumbled and missed plays.  Try not to re-live your athletic life through your child in a way that adds to the pressure they already feel.

 For your Kids:  They hear everything you say, but they hear criticism a lot LOUDER.  It is the responsibility of every player to contribute to the team’s collective enthusiasm.

For You: Don’t say that winning doesn’t count because it does.  Instead, help develop the feel for competing, for trying hard, and for having fun. Remember: the only thing worse than a bad loser – is a bad winner.

5)  Rituals Make Sport Special: Consider creating rituals at home to celebrate success, excellence, winning & losing, competition, sportsmanship & character, enthusiasm.

Rituals are part of the game just as the meeting on center of the ice to shake hands at the end of a game with every coach and every player.  When family time is disrupted by intense training schedules and traveling – try to create new rituals, games, and fun things to do away from the sport.  Develop great relationships and friendships with your athlete’s teammates parents.  Work at it, enjoy them for who they are, and the “team cohesion” for everyone will be palpable to each player.  Consider these things in your participation with your teams other parents – and the stands will be a friendly environment – whether at home or away.

Extra reading:

Dr. Stephen Walker is a therapist, coach, athletic and personal performance consultant who has consulted with national champion and All-American collegiate athletes, Olympians and professionals in IAAF, USATF track and field, USA Cycling, USATriathlon, UTI triathlon, USA hockey, PGA golf and other team sports. He has done considerable consulting with Mark Sample of GDI Hockey and continues to enjoy the special challenges goalies face. For more information visit his website: www.drstephenwalker.com

Alec Baker, PsyD is a recent graduate of the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. In 2005 he earned a B.A. in psychology from the Pennsylvania State University. Since that time he has worked as a goalie coach in the Philadelphia and Denver areas. This work has been with goalies of all youth ages and skill levels from Mite to Midget AA. As a goalie Alec spent 4 years with the Philadelphia Junior Flyers and was a member of the USA Hockey National Championship Tournament quarterfinalist team in 2000. He was also a two time member of the USA Hockey NTDP Select Festival team from the Atlantic/Southeast Region (1998–1999). This team was awarded the bronze medal in the Select Festival in 1999.

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