Sports performance consultant says it’s not if you win or lose, it’s the lessons you should be learning from playing.
Most parents encourage their children to become involved with sports because they believe athletics help build character as well as physical fitness. But is that what’s really happening? When the coach pumps the team with clichés such as “play a good game”, something critical may be lacking because kids rarely know how to translate such phrases into action.
“In this recession, fun is not enough of a value proposition for parents to invest the time and money into youth sports,” says Sports Performance Consultant Shaun Goodsell. “Whether it’s football or hockey, parents want more assurances that their children are also learning important life and social skills that will last a lifetime. Will the coach teach them how to handle disappointment? How to win well and lose well?”
Goodsell says that kids are taught how to make a block or kick a ball. But what’s missing is the training on the mental game, which is critical for the student’s performance, experience and reward for playing.
“There are five key concepts not understood by most coaches and definitely not understood by players,” says Goodsell. “Most coaches are happy just to have everyone show up on time with their gear on, and to have players understand the basics of the game. But when coaches don’t also teach the mental aspect of the game, kids wind up looking for shortcuts. This is what happens when kids use anger or energy drinks filled with sugar, ephedrine or caffeine to drive their play instead of learning the right skills that they’ll need after they leave the sport.”
He adds that a better alternative to the caffeine energy approach is for young athletes to choose products made with Suntheanine, (a pure form of the unique amino acid L-theanine) because it promotes a calming effect and helps the brain stay balanced and focused.
Focus, says Goodsell, is essential. He says it’s common for kids to feel overwhelmed when they try to do too much at once. “Without a clear point of focus, they set unrealistic expectations and set themselves up for unnecessary disappointment. They aren’t learning how to evaluate success.”
He gives the example of the high school quarterback who goes into the game expecting to complete each pass. “When that doesn’t happen, he feels like a failure for the rest of the game. This all-or-nothing thinking ends up working against him.”
Goodsell has produced the first in a series of short downloadable audio messages (www.5performancekeys.com), designed to give young athletes information about how to prepare mentally for the game. “They can listen to a message for 12 minutes on their iPod prior to competition to help them prepare mentally.” With recordings specific to eight common sports, the five key concepts are divided into ‘games’. Each recording is a starting point to help kids learn essential emotional and life skills. The five concepts are:
- The control game. “This is learning how to take charge of what you can control and to identify what you can’t control. It teaches the child the power of personal perception on their performance.
- The focus game. “This teaches kids to focus their mental energy on things that count instead of being distracted by things that don’t have any relevance to the outcome. Research shows that distractions can be self-sabotaging. The more distracted children are, the less likely they are to perform according to their ability level.”
- The expectations game. “The more realistic a child’s expectations are, the better able they are to manage their emotions.”
- The disappointment game. “Most people fear disappointment. I want to help kids to reframe their idea of disappointment so that it becomes part of their formula for growth and success.”
- The composure game. “That is about mastering their emotions and learning how to see failure or lack of success as opportunities for improvement. It helps kids to manage their emotions. They become more composed when they understand that everyone has skills that they still need to learn.”
Goodsell believes that the recordings are an excellent way to equip young people with the right mental edge for success in sports as well as life. “When coaches tell kids to ‘bring their A-game’, how does that tell a child what they need to do to play well? I brought 20 coaches into a room and none of them could tell me what their clichés meant. When a child doesn’t know how to translate these cliché’s into action, that results in confusion.
“Young athletes spend hours practicing their physical techniques; the 12 minutes they spend focusing on their mental techniques will help give them the confidence to play to their highest ability level, and will give them the skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.”