What is the first question that people usually ask children when they see your child after a gala or training? “Did you win?”
Many of us have been raised to put scoreboard results ahead of everything else. Sure, as Responsible Sport Parents we care about the scoreboard. But we also know that some of the lessons learned in youth sports can be invaluable as adults.
Instead of focusing exclusively on the stopwatch, Responsible Sport Parents can take a Mastery Approach to sports, where success is tied not just to wins and losses, but also to mastering physical and mental skills. That way, win or lose, children still can gain life lessons from sports.
There are three elements of The Mastery Approach (and there is an easy acronym – ELM – to help remember them) – Effort, Learning and Mistakes.
Effort – we encourage our kids to always give 100%
Learning – we see sports as a way to constantly learn and improve skill and character
Mistakes (losing) that’s OK – it’s how we respond to and learn from them that really matters
If we as parents, together with the team’s coach can instil ELM in our kids – rather than focusing solely on the stopwatch – they will perform better in the pool and will more likely apply the ELM approach to school, family relationships and other important aspects of their lives.
We’ve all seen it: too much emphasis on winning increases swimmers’ anxiety. They end up expending their emotional energy worrying about whether they will win or lose. And that higher anxiety causes them to make more mistakes – they swim poorly loosing technique.
Ultimately, anxiety undercuts self-confidence, which affects performance and takes the joy out of swimming.
Why does the focus on the stopwatch increase anxiety? Because, swimmers can’t control the race and its outcome. And players become more anxious about things that are important to them that they can’t control. A win on the scoreboard depends a great deal on the quality of the opponent, which is outside of the control of the athlete or team. (It’s also outside our control as parents!)
Sports psychology research shows that teams and athletes who take the ELM Mastery approach (giving 100% effort, constantly learning, and bouncing back from mistakes) consistently win more contests. By moving our children’s focus off the stopwatch results and on to their effort, our kids will be happier and more self-confident – and the wins will come, in sport & life.