As a regular part of my work with athletes, I see a tremendous amount of slumps, performance fears and blocks that cut across a variety of sports. For a great many of these struggling athletes, college level on down, one of the contributing factors to these repetitive performance problems is the athlete’s fear that he/she will be disappointing and/or angering mom or dad.
Sometimes this worry is front and center in the mind of the athlete as he/she gets ready to perform. Oftentimes, though this anxiety operates just below the surface, unconsciously fueling the individual’s nervousness, tightening muscles and generally sabotaging smooth, relaxed performance. There is no greater burden for a young athlete to carry into a competition than the fear that his/her relationship with the two most important people in his/her life, mom and dad, hangs in the balance, dependent upon how well that athlete performs!
The power of this fear goes all the way back to early childhood. Children are literally dependent upon their parents for their sense of security and survival. When there is a perceived breach in the relationship, that is when the child intuits that a parent is either angry at or disappointed in them, the child experiences intense fear. This anxiety is all-consuming and makes it impossible for that child to function.
Understand that your child’s emotional needs are very basic. He/she wants you to love and be proud of them. When they experience that you do, they are able to relax and function normally. When they perceive that you don’t, that you’re in any way unhappy with or disappointed in them, it triggers an internal panic that transcends whatever they might have been doing, completely shutting down or in other ways interfering with performance both in and out of sports.
If you let your child know either directly or indirectly that you are angry, frustrated or disappointed in them because they’re still stuck on their tumbling pass, can’t seem to throw a strike, missed the game winning free throws or lost their tennis match, then you are setting both you and them up for continued and escalating unhappiness. Kids who worry about their parents’ disappointment, end up trying to perform while carrying an overwhelming burden. Your expectations are like a weight that will eventually crush their spirit and fun, ruin their performance and seriously stress the parent-child bond.
Your pressure to get them to perform at a higher level will NEVER, and I repeat NEVER help them to relax and play better! it will backfire and result in low self-esteem, high anxiety and a very unhappy child. Do not tie your love and acceptance of your son or daughter to how well they do in sports unless you would like to open a long lasting Pandora’s Box of heartache for all involved!