This guest post by Wendy Lynne, Director of the Mental Toughness Academy, focuses on an issue that many children struggle with in youth sports: perfectionism. Even if your kids are young, you may see perfectionism starting to grow. Wendy’s insights about it can help you as a parent help your athlete.
Perfectionism is often revered in our culture and can be a good thing in small, healthy doses. All too often though, we see athletes who aim to do everything flawlessly and are not happy unless they play the game perfectly.
Traits of perfectionism often include being overly critical in self-evaluation, setting excessively high achievement standards and feeling like a failure if certain levels of success are not achieved.
What goes along with the belief that you can be perfect is the thought that you can always be doing something “better” or “doing more.”
Perfectionists are great at seeing details, but have an inner critic than tends to find flaws in everything, especially themselves.
Research shows people who have a daily mission of perfection can suffer from depression, anxiety, and body image dissatisfaction.
Perfectionists can use their desire to get things “just right” to set goals and push themselves harder in practice, but it’s got to stop at game time. Ever see these traits in your kids?
Most elite athletes possess perfectionist tendencies and have learned to use those traits to their advantage when it comes to practice and training.
But this is the key…they learn to put perfectionism aside on game day and instead focus on the task at hand and their love of the game.
When an athlete is a slave to perfection, it usually causes them to get angry with themselves.
Why? Because if your child sets expectations that are too high and goals that he can’t reach, then he will invariably end up frustrated and upset. Which typically messes up his focus and concentration and leads to a loss of confidence and beating himself up.
If this sounds familiar I am going to give you techniques that will help your child combat perfectionism.
Set smaller short-term performance goals
Help your child set mini goals that are a stretch to achieve, but are doable. For example, for a soccer player it could be, “I’m going to dominate the player I’m marking today. A baseball player could say I will bat .400 for the next 5 games. Or maybe for a swimmer or track athlete, I will hit personal best times in 2 out of 3 events this next meet.
Play for the love of the game
Your child’s mind and body work best when he allows himself to play, to move and to think with a mindset dedicated to fun and freedom.
Encourage him to write down what makes playing his sport fun. See if he can create a picture of himself enjoying all the things he loves in his mind.
For example, he may love laughing with his teammates, he may enjoy the great feeling of being outside and the warm sun giving him energy and clarity, he may like it when his body feels strong and loose.
You get the idea. He needs to see, feel and hear the fun and build it up in his mind. He should practice it daily in training so it becomes ingrained in his mind and body.
Thinking this way will keep him feel light and loose and full of energy.
Let no one knock him off your game
Your child is in charge of keeping a loose, fun, and confident attitude – not his teammates, not the coaches, not the opposing team, not the crowds, not the weather.
He needs to take responsibility for his thinking!
Your child needs to accept that mistakes are a part of playing sports. Typically, but not always, whoever makes the least mistakes wins. But forget perfection, it just doesn’t exist. It is normal to slip-up, make mistakes and even choke.
I bet you nor your child can’t name a top athlete who is perfect. So encourage him to let go of perfectionism, and accept the fact that he will make mistakes. He needs to embrace that as much as he loves the game and winning.
Introduce your child to the Serenity Prayer? Accept the things he cannot change, change the things he can and have the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s about striving for the feeling of completeness from giving it your all, rather than faultlessness.
The Mental Toughness Academy’s Mental Toughness Training helps kids build confidence, focus, determination and the ability to bounce back from adversity – what they call Mental Toughness. Go here to get a free ebook “The 10 Commandments To Being A Great Sports Parent” and a free training for youth athletes “How To Master the Pressure.”
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