Sports Mindset Tip:
Question: Parents, What should you do if your child tries out for a team and ends up getting cut / doesn’t make the team?
Getting cut from a team is an emotional experience for both the athlete and parent(s). The acronym that I would like you to remember is WIN (What’s Important Now, by Lou Holtz). At this moment, WIN is supporting your child and allowing her/him to process what just happened. The following are ways that you as parents can best support your child if she/he gets cut from her/his team:
1. Check Yourself: take a moment to understand how you are feeling and what is upsetting you. For example: Are you mad at the coach? Are you upset at your child? Are you thinking back to an experience you once had? In any case, it’s important to identify your source of frustration and don’t make your problem your child’s. Meaning, keep those feelings to yourself. If you are going to support your child, you need to be there to give unconditional love and support.
Things we don’t want to say to our child:
a. “Jonny, your coach is an idiot! Bobby was much worse! If coach cut anyone it should have been him!”
b. “I told you that you wouldn’t make the team! You weren’t good enough because you did not put in the time to get better before the tryout!”
2. Unconditional Love and Support:
a. Be a good listener: just listen to what your child has to say and let them unload their personal thoughts and feelings. Ask open-ended questions and avoid giving advice unless your child asks for it. The goal is to understand the situation from your child’s point of view without passing judgment.
b. Just be there for them: be a shoulder to cry on and just be there as emotional support. Most of all, if they don’t ask for advice, don’t give it. If they don’t want to talk about it, it doesn’t mean they don’t need you.
Spending time with your child and just doing something together can be enough to help him/her to decompress and emotionally unwind. Surprisingly, it can help you (as a parent) as well! So turn off your phone, go out to dinner and get some yummy comfort food, get some ice cream, or just go home and watch a movie together. And, don’t talk about the tryout!
3. Give Your Child Time To Process: if your child does not bring up the tryout on the car ride home, you shouldn’t bring it up either. As parents, give it the weekend (two-days) or a week before you approach the subject. Time heals all wounds. In this case, time allows you and your child to emotionally regroup and to gain perspective. So, give your child and yourself that time to regroup and reflect. Then, ASK your child if he/she wants to talk about it. If he/she says “no”, end the conversation there. If he/she says “yes”, remember to be an active listener and understand the tryout from his/her perspective. That way, the advice you give can be geared toward their point of view versus you projecting your own point of view.
4. Wait and See: after a few weeks or few months, you may find that your child has started to miss her/his sport. As a result, you may see her/him in the backyard just playing catch or kicking the ball with a friend, or she/he may ask you to sign her/him up for a team or pick-up league. On the other hand, your child may decide that she/he no longer has interest in the sport and wants to try something else.
In the end, if you allow your child the time to process both successes and failures, you will allow them to learn from those experiences. I am a firm believer that lessons learned in sport apply to life experiences outside of sport. So remember to let your child learn and grow from these life experiences.
If you have questions that you would like me to answer in the next newsletter or if you have a question that cannot wait to be answered, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or call me at 971-303-8297
Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology
High Performance Coach
For more information
High Performers and What Happens When Things Go Wrong
High Performers and What Happens When Things Go Wrong
By Jimmy Yoo
Athletes who excel in youth and high school sport(s) (ages 8-18) tend to also excel in other areas of life as well. For example, a standout high school athlete is likely to be successful academically. Characteristics that describe these student-athletes are determined; motivated; hardworking; they make it look easy; with sports, they make it look graceful and smooth; and most of all, they seem to enjoy what they are doing.
Why are they so good? And, what makes these athletes so motivated?
First off, some kids are just born with natural talent. They have physical abilities and intelligence that allow them to be extremely successful and standout from the crowd, even when they don’t put forth 100% effort. For others, whom I will refer to as determined athletes, they aren’t naturally talented athletes, but they work hard and they strive to be the best they can be. To do this, these athletes commit countless hours of time and resources to practice, learn, and improve, so that they can perform at a high level.
In general, naturally talented and determined athletes who are committed to excellence or reaching their full potential, dedicate the time and effort to master the skills necessary to perform their best each day. They recognize that success is not something you turn on for one thing and off the next, it is a standard that is set with everything they do. Overall, it’s just part of what they do and who they are.
For these athletes, this level of commitment starts by creating habits for success. This includes goal setting, prioritizing, and scheduling time for all the important things in their lives. This means that they set goals and expectations for athletics, academics, hobbies, and nutrition. They also schedule time to spend with family and friends, and down time to take breaks. They create regular sleep cycles, and recovery time between workouts and when nursing an injury. Lastly, they prioritize what is important on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
For youth and high school athletes, setting habits, acquiring skills, and developing mastery are all icing on the cake. At the heart of it, athletes at the youth and high school level will work harder, dedicate their time and energy, and be motivated to perform when they are having fun. A study by Amanda Visek (2014) of George Washington University surveyed youth athletes (ages 8-18), their parents, and their coaches, to identify why kids play sports. 90% responded that “Fun” was the main reason. She then had this group define fun. The participants listed 81 characteristics that defined fun.
Here are some of the top answers:
I was carefree and I was able to just go out there and play.
I just went out there and tried my best.
I worked hard.
I made some really great friends on the team.
I had a good coach, and he/she was positive and respectful.
I got a lot of playing time or equal playing time.
As a team, we worked well together and respected each other.
Visek concluded that when athletes are having fun, it promotes an environment where they can play in the moment, have fun and laugh, and they don’t have a fear of making mistakes. If youth and high school athletes are exposed to a positive and supportive sports environment, then they are more likely to develop positive coping skills for stressful and competitive situations, are passionate about their participation, and are likely to stay active for life.
What happens when things go wrong and athletes start to struggle?
To state the obvious, an athlete’s performance will suffer when they are not having fun and when they make mistakes. In sports like gymnastics, freestyle skiing, and mixed martial arts, mistakes can result in physical injury, be it a minor sprain, a season ending injury, or in some cases, a life threatening injury. In sports like these, the fear of performing after a mistake can be extremely hard to overcome. For other sports like lacrosse, soccer, swimming, and golf, failure and mistakes often don’t result in physical injury. In either case, the fear to perform is the direct result of poor performance, be it in practice or during competition.
Here are some examples of performance-based setbacks that athlete’s experience:
They fall into a performance slump.
They feel that their performance is plateauing.
They suffer an injury.
They feel pressure to perform due to outside factors that include a pressure to win from coaches, parents, and teammates; or to impress a college recruiter or professional talent scout.
While a poor performance may be the catalyst, an athlete’s emotional response to her/his performance is what ultimately affects confidence and focus. For example, a lacrosse player may have missed three open shots in a game. Each time this player missed a shot on goal, her coach would yell things from the sideline. The first thing her coach yelled was, “Take better shots!” The athlete responded by nodding her head up and down and hitting her stick on the ground. The second missed goal, the coach yelled, “Try harder!” To this, the athlete responded by throwing her stick on the ground and just screaming in disgust. After the last shot that was saved by the goalie, the coach yelled, “Stop missing!” Soon after the last comment, the athlete substituted herself out of the game. She later stated that she removed herself from the game because she did not want to miss another shot, didn’t want to get yelled at again, and didn’t want to be blamed for losing the game because she couldn’t capitalize on her shot opportunities.
How Do I Change My Perspective?
Whether you have a coach like this or not, it is important to reflect, advocate for yourself and others, and to focus on what’s important in the moment.
a. Reflect: take some time to think about what the coach has said to you in the past.
If athletes are experiencing a performance based setbacks, they can get caught up in a cycle of negative self-talk, which includes translating positive and constructive comments from coaches, teammates, and parents as negative.
To help get a better perspective, writing it down or journaling is a great way to reflect. When you write it down, you can look back on it, express your feelings, and get it off your chest so that you can move on. Of note, when I played lacrosse in college, before there were smart phones or even cell phones, I would call my answering machine after games to remind myself what I did well, to vent my frustrations, and to remind myself what I should work on before the next game. So remember, journaling or recording it on your phone can be a useful tool to help you draw out positives, negatives, and things to work on. It can also help you to get a better perspective of how coaches, teammates, and parents respond, and in many cases how they support you when you perform poorly.
b. Advocate for yourself and show support for others: I heard this quote recently and it makes sense as it applies to relationships with teammates, coaches, and parents.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
Set Up a Meeting: If you feel like your coach doesn’t care about you as much as he/she does for your teammates, be proactive and start building or strengthening that relationship. An easy way to do this is by setting up a time to meet with your coach. The first thing you can ask them is how he/she feels you are performing. You can also let them know how you are feeling.
For example, let your coach know that you don’t feel like you are playing well and that you have started to feel nervous when performing in competition.
Yes, it is hard to express our feelings and to feel vulnerable, but it is not a sign of weakness, especially in youth and high school sports. If anything, it helps coaches understand what you are experiencing and it makes it easier for them to help you. While it is good to deal with our problems on our own, everyone including professional athletes need support and encouragement from coaches, teammates, family, and friends.
Give to get: To receive positive support from coaches and teammates, you have to give positive support as well. To give to get, you have to provide positive feed back about something specific a teammate did in a game or practice. For example, a soccer player could compliment a teammate by saying, “I thought Jenny played hard and did a great job today because she fought for every 50/50 ball. Even though she lost some of the contested balls, she never gave up!” We may not always get a compliment from a teammate or coach, but when we give to get, we are taking the time to recognize that teammates are playing well and we aren’t consumed by our own negative thoughts. Lastly, if we are modeling what we want from our teammates, we are taking the time to develop a supportive team culture.
c. Focus on What’s Important
To be at our best, we want to start a competition feeling confident. The last thing athletes want to do is go into competition feeling unsure and hoping that their performance will help build their confidence. For example, focusing on the “don’ts” before and during competition, like “Don’t play crappy, like you did last game,” means your mindset is focused on the past. And, when you are focusing on the “should(s) or the needs,” like “I need to do well today so the team will win,” or “I should dominate my opponent today,” your mindset is on the future and on the outcome. Focusing on the past or the future are things that you cannot control and are things that just distract you from the task at hand.
To perform our best, we need to focus on the present moment. An easy reminder is to think of the word WIN. WIN is an acronym that Lou Holtz, legendary Notre Dame Football coach, created. It stands for What’s Important Now. Say it right before a practice, a competition, or when you feel like you are losing confidence in the moment, like when you mess up or make a mistake.
To WIN or to focus on what’s important now, think about all the little things that are necessary to play well, be it the technical aspect of your game, like the footwork needed to beat your defender in basketball; the tactical part of the game, like offensive and defensive strategy in tennis; the physical side of the game, like effort and making sure you give it your all; and let’s not forget the mental component of the game as well. When I think of mental focus, I always think of the movie Cars. In the movie, Lightning McQueen would mentally prepare for each race by saying to himself, “I am speed. Faster than fast, quicker than quick. I am Lightning.” He used positive self-talk and imagery to build confidence and prepare for each race. Focusing on the process or what’s important right now will help you play in the present moment and to pay attention to the little things that are needed to play well.
So remember, athletes who perform with confidence consistently dedicate their time and energy to mastering and performing their best, have a network of people that support them, and do their best to rid themselves of distractions so that they can perform in the present moment. Most importantly, remind yourself why you enjoy doing the things you do because if you are having fun, you will also be motivated to work hard and play hard!
Miner, J. W. (2016, June 01). Why 70 percent of kids quit sports by age 13. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from