When most parents think about their kids playing sports, they probably envision themselves cheering their child on to victory and celebrating their achievements. But for most young athletes, there will also be setbacks and losses, and your child is probably more sensitive to this possibility than you are. It is important to make sure our children have a healthy attitude about both winning and losing when it comes to playing sports, but we also don’t want their attitude towards losing to lead to a fear of failing.
A fear of failure doesn’t just have psychological effects, but can even affect your child’s performance by causing them to be more tentative. Athletes who are overwhelmed with thoughts of performing poorly are more likely to make those thoughts self-fulfilling because they are scared to take the necessary risks to play their sport optimally.
"Fear of failure has the ability to be a constant source of anxiety in an athlete's performance, and, in order to manage your fear as an athlete, it is important to identify the fears that are holding your performance back," Becca Thomas, IMG Academy Mental Conditioning Coach said.
While the trainers at our elite boarding school for athletes focus on mental strength and conditioning with our student-athletes, it’s good to start early with these skills. Here are a few things you can teach your child to help them have a healthy attitude about the possibility of losing or facing setbacks, and these lessons can be carried with them into adulthood when they enter the workforce:
Identify fear when it surfaces: The first step towards helping your child deal with a fear of failure is to help them identify it. If your child is showing signs of excessive nervousness before a competition or resistance to working on new skills, talk to them about how they are feeling and see if they can pinpoint what it is that is making them feel that way.
Identify the source of the fear: Is your child’s fear the result of a feeling of unpreparedness? Are they going up against an opponent that is known for being especially challenging? Are they just experiencing general pre-competition jitters? In order to overcome an enemy – in this case, your child’s fear – you must first identify it.
Learn to self-talk: Fears are often the result of overthinking and imagining the worst-case scenario. Teach your child how to utilize self-talk to identify fears they are having, identify their source, and by identifying the source, re-frame the fears into positive self-talk. If your child is fearful due to feeling unprepared, have them go over the things they did to prepare. If your child is fearful due to facing a challenging opponent, have them go over the unique strengths they possess.
Learn to visualize: Teach your child to visualize what it looks like when they play their sport perfectly. Have them list their positive attributes, such as their focus, their confidence, or their energy, and visualize using those attributes to successfully play their sport. This will help them to shake off pre-competition jitters and approach their sport with a clear head.
Shift focus: If your child is fearful of losing a competition, have them shift their focus to the possibility that they could be successful. Have them set small goals, such as getting two possessions within the first period of their basketball game, and focus on the small goals that lead up to the ending of the game, rather than just setting the broad goal of winning.
Lower the pressure: Many of us are guilty of holding ourselves to a high standard of perfection, and a child that goes into training and competitions with this attitude could carry an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism into adulthood and their career. Help your child understand that making mistakes from time to time is normal and expected, and teach them that instead of trying to perform perfectly, they should try to perform to the best of their abilities and use the mistakes that they make as a learning experience.
As parents of young athletes, it is important to help our children develop a healthy attitude towards losing and being imperfect. By having this attitude while playing sports in their youth, your child will go on to higher education, adulthood, and the workforce with realistic expectations about their own performance throughout life. At our elite boarding school for athletes, we not only work with student-athletes on academics and physical performance but also on mental strength and conditioning.