Being the underdog in youth sports means an athlete faces a game where they have already been chosen as the loser–by the fans, and even by the coaches and athletes.
Yes, I said the coaches.
My son played basketball for a coach who told them flat out before a tournament that he didn’t expect them to do very well. That’s a subject for another post, but needless to say, he labeled the team as underdogs before the weekend began.
When your child goes into a competition as an underdog, how can you help him face the seemingly insurmountable odds?
As an Underdog, Help Your Child Focus on What He Can Control
He can’t control what others think or how the officials will call the game.He can’t control every play, or how his teammates will do their jobs. But he can control his own preparation and execution.
USA Softball Olympic Gold Medalist Michele Smith, encouraged her teammates to concentrate on the elements of the game that they could control. She couldn’t control how the umpire saw her pitches or whether the batter hit the ball well. But she could control her pitches. She could be prepared for each batter and plan how she would pitch to them.
As the Underdog, Help Your Child Stress Effort
Coaches and parents should remind young athletes that they will be proud of them, no matter what the score is, if they give 100% effort. And then those adults need to backup that encouragement with their behavior.
Cheer for each child’s efforts, whether he scores or not. Offer praise for each personal goal that a player meets. I’m not a big fan of parents coaching their kids after the game, but if your child brings it up and wants your advice, be sure you talk about what went right as well as what went wrong and how they can improve on it.
As the Underdog, a Team Can Unite
Sometimes being the underdog can actually be a great way to unite a team. When my husband coached, he’d often cut out newspaper clippings that labeled them as underdogs and post them on the locker room walls. He used them as rallying points for his team.
When others don’t believe in your child’s team, but your child’s team believes in themselves, they share a bond that will inspire and strengthen their effectiveness as a team. Win or lose, the underdog team learns a powerful life lesson: when we believe in ourselves, good things can happen!
As the Underdog, Your Child Stays Hungry
As an underdog, your child is hungry for success and that often means that he will push himself harder. Underdogs are always the little fish in a big pond, but there is lots of room to grow. Encourage your child to set big goals for himself. Once his goal is reached, he can set new ones to keep growing.
As the Underdog, Your Child is Growing Stronger
Underdogs have lots of opportunities to grow in perseverance. So when your child starts thinking that a challenge is too great to overcome, remind him that he is only growing stronger as he faces the difficulties and that hard work always pays off.
As the Underdog, Being Good and Winning May Not Be the Same Thing
When the underdog wins and causes an “upset,” how does this happen? Even though the favored team was bigger and stronger, they did not do enough and play well enough to win; in that game and on that day, they were not the better team.
As the Underdog, Your Child Must Learn to Separate His Identity from His Performance
One of the biggest lessons your child can learn playing sports is the ability to see the bigger picture, to see that they are not defined by how they play, but by who they are.
My son learned this valuable lesson in college when he played Division 3 football. He then watched his younger sister struggling in her college volleyball. She let a bad practice or game bring her down, as if her happiness depended on her volleyball performance.
“Volleyball does not define who you are as a person,” he told her. “There’s more to life than what happens on that court.”
Help your child build a healthy self-identity that isn’t defined by a single game, or even by a single sport. Help him see that being challenged by strong opponents makes him better at the sport he loves.
There are worse things
There are worse things than being the underdog because often those underdogs come out on top. When the odds are against your child, he learns what he is really made of, who is on his side, and just how strong he can become!
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