By not keeping score in a game, we teach kids that making mistakes, losing or failing is not okay. It says they must be perfect or perform well all the time. The truth is, our kids learn a lot from losing or making game changing mistakes. It’s all in how we as parents and coaches deal with it themselves and help their kids process it.
When parents and coaches react adversely to a loss or a mistake in a game, the athlete senses that they are not acceptable or loved. This sounds extreme but in a generation where kids desperately need to feel accepted and loved, their sensitivity to any sort of rejection (real or not) is magnified. Since kids today are so needy of acceptance, they develop a fear of failure because they do not want to be rejected or to let us down. A fear of failure is crippling because it keeps us from truly enjoying and playing our hearts out with abandon. When fear is knocking on the back door, mediocrity and failure dwells within because failure becomes the focus. As I stated in several previous articles, 50% of kids quit sports each year after age 12 due to lack of enjoyment. Fear takes the enjoyment out of sport. So parent and coaches can change this attrition rate simply through how they react to failure or loss.
Loss and failure should also not be swept under the carpet and ignored. In doing this we lose valuable teaching moments or times to reach out and connect with our kids. We can actually use these times to accelerate personal growth and athletic improvement. We do this by putting proper perspective on the situation. I typically do this by “reframing”. Kids are visual so I encourage them to take the ugly frame off the picture and put on a new one. Then we figure out what the picture now looks like.
I encourage kids to reframe by asking questions about the experience. Try to ask questions keeping a long term focus in mind. We need to help them define failure and define success. You can ask questions like, “What happened?”, “How did it make you feel?”, “Do you think that I love you any less? (parent)”, “Do you think I think you’re a bad player or worse than before? (coach)”, “Did you learn anything from it?”, “Would you do it different next time?”, “How would you do it different next time?”. And then here are the critical questions that actually put a new frame on the situation. “If you learned something from this, does that make it a failure?”, “Could you possibly have emerged from this successful because you learned something that you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t experienced this?”.
On the flipside, we can also help our kids deal with success. We learn different things about ourselves when we’re successful but, is it a success if we didn’t learn, develop or grow from it?
Scores sometimes show us where we’re at. At school we have report cards and the marks show where we’re at in our learning. Game scores and show us where we’re at athletically and also emotionally. How we handle stress, bad ref calls, poor coaching, aggressive opponents and even the losing end of a blowout game reveals where we’re at emotionally. Take the time to observe your athlete in these situations, help them reframe it and you will achieve milestones in helping your kid to grow wiser and more mature.