If you have an athlete-child, one who is in the sport because they really want to play the game, compete and win…beware, there’s a good chance of them contracting CSS…competitive spirit syndrome.
Everyone in our family has CSS–all three kids, husband and yes, even mom. Except that in my case, CSS manifests itself in the stands as I watch my kids play and my husband coach, in the lazyboy as I watch the Dolphins play, and when I play ping pong.
CSS need not be negative, because actually, for an athlete, it can be a very good thing. Kids with CSS play very hard, take the game seriously, and hate losing–all good things for an athlete. But many suffer from one very disparaging symptom: they are way too hard on themselves.
If your child has exhibited this symptom, then I know you, as a parent, have suffered the ill effects as well. To put it simply, it totally sucks to watch your kid beat up on themselves when they are not happy with their performance.
And I’m sorry to tell you that as a parent, there is not a whole lot you can do to keep your child from suffering with this symptom. However, I can tell you what NOT to do. That’s because, over the past 16 years as my three kids played sports,I’ve made many mistakes.
Do not force consoling hugs on your child after the “bad” game. I’ve tried it only to be brushed off. Nothing personal, Mom and Dad. It’s not you the kid is rejecting; they are just not in a real lovin’ mood.
Do not force verbal encouragement on your child immediately following the “bad” game. A CSS child will not be receptive when they are upset about their performance. It’s best to let them work through their frustration alone, then a bit later offer positive feedback.
One night, my daughter was extremely unhappy after a volleyball game that ended on a down note for her. We said nothing as we got in the car, but gave her a few minutes to go for a run to get her anger and frustration out. After she vented, her attitude adjusted and even though she was still not ready to discuss the game, she was at least in a more amiable mood. Sometimes the best thing you can do as your kids stew over their mistakes is let them cool down, safely vent, and put it behind them.
Do not point out the obvious right after the game. “You weren’t moving your feet fast enough.” “You weren’t keeping your eye on the ball.” “Did you not see that guy open in the end zone?” Thank you, Captain Obvious.Give your kids some credit; chances are pretty good, especially if they are teenagers,that they already know what they did wrong. And if they don’t, there will come a time when they may ask for your help; until then let their coach do the critiquing. I was telling my college daughter about her younger sister’s struggles. “But she won’t listen to us,” I lamented. To which my eldest astutely replied that “We never do, do we?” Not when it comes to trying to convince them that they must move past mistakes, that everyone makes mistakes,that it’s the team that loses, that it’s not an individual’s fault– blah, blah,blah.
Do not ignore the issue altogether. Sooner or later, a discussion about your child’s tendency to be too hard on themselves will be appropriate. Take advantage of those moments when your child is in a receptive mood or when they bring up the subject of their frustration. Encourage them to have short-term memory when it comes to their error; learning to put mistakes behind them right away is a learned art but one they must master if they are to be a successful athlete. Remind them that all athletes go through slumps–whether it’s hitting a softball, making baskets, completing football passes, or making volleyball passes. True athletes fight through those slumps and come out stronger because of them. And make available to them opportunities for improvement, whether it’s sending them to specialized camps and classes or just going through drills with them yourself.
The secret to dealing with the CSS is channeling, not curing. You want your athlete-child to have CSS because it makes them a much better competitor. But instead of beating themselves up when they struggle, they must push themselves to work harder and strive to improve. Where does that leave us parents? Our job is to listen, support, cheer, challenge, and sometimes just be willing to back off.