Talking with your child about their athletic performance comes with the territory of being a sports parent. However, do the words you choose enhance your child’s athletic experience? Or do they discourage and dishearten? It’s a mistake most of us sports parents make. At one point or another we’ll say something we shouldn’t have said. Afterwards, we feel bad, our child feels bad, their performance doesn’t improve and it’s a negative situation all the way around. Avoid this type of situation in the future by keeping these tips in mind when talking to your athlete. Tip #1 ~ DO, not Don’t When helping your child, tell them what they should do. Don’t tell them what they shouldn’t do. For example: WRONG: Don’t take your eye off the ball BETTER: Watch the ball all the way. WRONG: I better not see you walking during practice. BETTER: Always hustle in practices and games. Tip #2 - Criticize the play, not the player Take the focus off your child. Critic the play or the performance vs. the player themselves. Try to end with a positive statement. WRONG: You made a bad pass. BETTER: The pass wide to the left, but with this small adjustment it’ll be right on next time. WRONG: You didn’t even come close to making that basket. BETTER: Your shot was off, but using better footwork next time will help straighten it out. Tip #3 - Don’t assume once is enough When the coach goes over a new concept idea, try to go over it again at home. Youth sports teams usually don’t practice every day. At the high school level, team may practice every day, but coaches may cover a topic or skill during just one practice session, and then move on. Just because your child’s coach covered something in practice don’t assume that’s enough for your child. Ask them if they understood the new concept. See if you can help them grasp it by talking about it again at home. But remember the “Rule of 3”. If the coach explained something a few times and you go over it at home, but your child still doesn’t get it, maybe it’s time for a different approach. If the new concept has been explained to your child 3 times and it still isn’t sinking in, it’s time to change strategies and think of another way to get the message across. If you find yourself saying, “I’ve told you a hundred times….” take a step back. Maybe it’s not your child that’s the slow learner. How many times do you have to try something before you realize it’s not working? Obviously saying the same thing for the 101st time isn’t going to make a difference. Try something new. Tip #4 – Remember, what you say counts Yes, what you say to your child really does count. Perhaps more than what the coaches say. But what your child hears isn’t always what you said, or at least what you thought you said. When you share a constructive criticism of your child’s performance, have them repeat it back to you. You may be surprised at their take on your words. You won’t know if they truly understand your meaning unless you ask. If there is a discrepancy between what you said and what they heard, try to clarify your message. This gets a bit tricky because, by trying to correct things, you may unintentionally give them the idea you don’t think they are smart enough to catch on to what you said the first time. Let them know that they aren’t at fault and that you are the one that needs get better at communicating your thoughts in a clear, understandable way. Tip#5 – Be consistently and constantly Positive! Talk with your child, watch your child, listen to your child, teach your child, listen again, and teach again, but keep it positive. We often demand the most of those we love. Since you as a parent love your child so much, you probably demand quite a bit of them. That’s okay. But remember; be positive, not only consistently, but constantly. Being positive once a month would be consistent, but not constant. With the hustle and bustle of sports life, time can fly by rather quickly. It’s easy to let a week or two slip by without saying anything positive to your child. Make it a point to encourage and praise them more often than that. Shoot for 3-4 times a week if not daily. When your child knows you believe in them, they can carry that into their performance believe in themselves. This confidence and belief has the potential to boost performance more than any drill could. So, Mom, Dad, choose your words wisely. Use words that instill confidence instead of self doubt. Words that help your child improve next time instead of causing them to fear making another mistake. Let your words promote and enhance your child’s performance while contributing to their love of the game.
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