Ask The Experts
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
Failing at anything is hard, especially for kids during those big moments in sports.
As coaches and parents of young athletes, we will do anything to shield our children from hurtful situations that arise as they are growing up.
In some cases, this type of mentality can actually do more harm than good. Why is it important to have a healthy relationship with failure?
We spoke with Dr. Josie Nicholson, a licensed counseling psychologist and a certified mental performance consultant for the University of Mississippi, to get her thoughts on something all athletes experience at some point during their participation: failing to deliver in the big moment.
SPORTINGKIND LIVE: When a young athlete strikes out to end a championship game or misses free throws that result in a loss, those can be crushing moments. What can coaches do to help an athlete through these experiences?
NICHOLSON: My number one tip is do not wait to address issues related to failure. If a coach approaches performance from a process standpoint, it’s much more important how an athlete is thinking and if they are being in the moment and at their best, rather than focusing on just the outcome. There will be more quality in an athlete’s effort if the effort is focused on what they are doing rather than what the outcome is going to be. Coaches should start with this mentality from the beginning of the season. This relationship with the athlete will have a much greater impact than what is said in that moment after the failure occurs. Number two, it is important to build the skills of positive self-talk and outlook. Athletes should recognize this is not the outcome that I wanted but I did the best that I could, and it will be better for me in the long run. Last, but not least, having a positive relationship with failure throughout the season is extremely important. Failure is really the only chance we have to get better. If we are succeeding at every attempt we have, our goals are not good enough. Goals should be higher than what we can reach in the moment. When a relationship with failure is developed, failing in a clutch situation will make a young athlete stronger, help them build character, and motivate them to fight harder the next season.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are some things that coaches should not do, as well, in these situations?
NICHOLSON: Coaches, along with parents, should not try to take the pain away. Letting the athlete reflect on the situation can be good for them. After the reflection process, the athlete can begin to heal. At times, coaches tend to express anger instead of concern, which is not helpful. Coaches and parents should not ask the athlete questions like, “Why did you swing at that last pitch?” This type of question does not help an athlete learn from the situation. Lastly, coaches should not try to analyze the failure in that moment. This goes back to giving an athlete some time to reflect on the failure to see how the situation will have a positive outcome, instead of a negative, on the next season.
Dr. Josie Nicholson
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