On more than one occasion, I wished I could read the minds of my kids as they played sports. It would explain a lot—their actions, attitudes and the effort they are putting out as they play.
The only way I’ve learned what my kids were thinking was through conversations we had following games. The things my young athletes were thinking could very well be these same things that your child is thinking as he/she plays.
1. Is the coach going to yell at me for screwing up?
Some coaches instill into players the fear of making mistakes. They may even pull kids out of games when they make one mistake, which leaves your child playing with that fear in his/her head. This could be a thought that nags your child and dictates how he/she plays.
2. I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made last game/inning/quarter.
Perhaps the coach is not the one who is causing your child to play hesitantly. Many kids are their own worst critics and often that makes them play in fear and hold themselves back.
3. I can’t remember what to do!
My husband-coach used to say that when kids forgot what to do, it was a “brain-fart”. Keeping all the plays in mind and knowing how to react in every situation is often overwhelming for players, so don’t be surprised at their mess-ups.
4. Why is dad/mom yelling?
Although my kids said they didn’t listen to spectators, I know that when I was particularly loud, my kids did hear me and my yelling was a distraction to them.
5. I don’t know if I can do this!
It’s not unusual for kids to doubt their abilities and to have fears and uncertainties as they play.
6. What’s for dinner?
And then there are the kids who are just looking forward to what’s next!
7. That official/opponent/teammate/coach is such a jerk!
This happens all the time, I’m sure. Kids are always looking for someone else to blame for problems in the game.
On the positive side, here’s a few good things your kids may be thinking:
8. I’ve got this.
I know I can do this. I’ve practiced it a million times and I’m well prepared!
9. Nice play from the other team!
Noticing good plays from the other team and even from other teammates is a sign of an athletes who’s a good sport.
10. I love this game.
I hope that, win or lose, your child is thinking this because if he/she is, then chances are good that they will keep playing.
The bottom line is this: your child’s self-talk is important and can influence how he or she plays. Don’t assume that they have this area under control. Make a point of asking questions about what they were thinking during the game. Encourage positive self-talk and if they are struggling, check out mental toughness trainers who can teach them skills for the mental game.