If you are watching shyness hold your child back in sports, you are not alone.
One sports mom recently wrote and asked for advice for her son, who was a good athlete, but didn’t want to play sports because he felt too shy.
What should a parent’s response be when this happens? First, I would say there are some important things to remember when your child acts shy.
Shyness is not a Disease
Don’t ever apologize for your child being shy, especially in front of him. Shyness does not mean a child has personality problems. It is not a fault. It does not mean a child has a poor self-image. It is a temperament, neither good or bad. It’s not who he is, it’s part of who your child is, like his eye color or height. Be sure you’re not communicating that you don’t like that part of who he is.
For example, if your daughter is holding back from meeting her t-ball coach, you might say, “Sorry, Coach, She’s shy.” Instead, tell your daughter, “You feel shy right now. That’s OK—you can say hello when you’re ready.” Saying “You feel” is much better than saying “You are,” because it recognizes feelings instead of labeling a child.
Shyness Can be a Good Thing
People who act shy have many positive personality traits. They tend to be good listeners, able to make people feel comfortable without saying much of anything. Many of them have a good self-concept and an inner peace that is noticeable to those who take the time to notice. Some “shy” children are cautious, slow to warm up to strangers.
How can Shyness work in youth sports?
If your child tends to be shy when it comes to sports, how can you help?
- Remember that your child could very well outgrow the shy behavior. Listen to one athlete’s experience:
“When I was 7 or 8 I was much too shy to play team sports. The idea of being the one at bat would have been overwhelming. In middle school I asked to run track and played soccer in high school. So even if a kid doesn’t want to play sports in second grade, it doesn’t mean he or she never will.”
- Don’t push them to play sports; just let them play. Research shows that kids whose parents push them too far, too quickly, end up withdrawing even more. If you want your kid to get exercise, provide opportunities for them to play with their friends outside or in a gym, don’t assume it has to be organized sports.
- Provide other opportunities for team interaction in a less-threatening environment. Your child needs to learn to interact with other children in a team-like setting. He needs to learn to negotiate, compromise, give and take. There are other ways to learn this besides playing sports.
- Opt for non-traditional sports. What about fencing, golf, shooting, archery, horseback riding, swimming, tennis, ballet, or biking? Many non-traditional sports offer an environment that is less threatening than a soccer field or a baseball diamond.
- Don’t let your child live in a bubble. Give him opportunities to succeed in new situations. Encourage your child to take baby steps, and encourage them by saying, “I know you’re uncomfortable, but I’ll be with you. Shall we give it a try?” Gentle nudges are okay.
- Celebrate victories. Notice and comment on your child’s effort, and the fact that he’s trying, not on whether he goes through with what you wanted him to do. Rejoice in the baby steps.
- Beware of always rescuing. Sure, there are times when you should pull back because you know your child is not ready to try something. But remember that success in new experiences builds confidence. Don’t deprive your child of this growth by constantly rescuing them.
- You child may really want to join. He may stubbornly sit in the car, refusing to go to practice, but deep down he may be desperate to participate. Kids who act shy truly want to be social, says, Dr. Carducci, but they feel inhibited, which causes them a lot of pain.
Athletes don’t have to be outgoing and cocky to be aggressive and hard-working.
When my husband coached high school varsity softball, he had two sisters on the team that often acted shy around team mates. But let me tell you, those two girls were beasts on the field, and even went on to play Division 1 softball. Their shy behavior definitely did not keep them from being top-notch athletes.
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