My son just had a particularly devastating experience in last night’s game. He’s a pitcher and came in the sixth inning with a hard fought 7 – 4 lead after the starting pitcher had to be pulled because his pitch count had gotten too high. When the coach finally pulled my son from the game in that same inning, the score was now 14 – 7 and the other team had almost batted around twice! I am well aware that there were a lot of errors behind my son but I am worried about what effect this will have on my boy!
The lasting effect of any of these kinds of experiences in sports is always directly related to how the adults involved handle it! What was your son’s experience? How upset was he? What did the coach and the other kids on the team say to him afterwards? If the coach has his/her head on straight they will understand that this is a very sensitive situation and needs to be handled accordingly. The coach will make sure no-one on the team blames your son! He/she will also make it clear that they, as the coach are NOT blaming or disappointed in your son! A little boy’s self-image, self-esteem and love for the game is at stake!
How did you as the parent handle the situation? Did you help your son keep it in perspective? Did you make it clear to him that the fate of the free world did not hang in the balance of his pitching? Did you still take him to get ice cream?
Our kids need to be taught that these games are just that! GAMES! They do not define us! They do not determine our self-worth in life! They don’t even measure our abilities as an athlete because there are always so many other uncontrollable factors (like the defense behind him for example) involved. The most important thing is for your son to understand that failing, messing up, coming up short or whatever are all simply valuable learning experiences and should be handled by the adults involved accordingly.
For example, “OK, What did you do wrong and what can you learn from this to help you do better next time?” or “What did you feel that you handled well in the situation?”
We want to impress upon our kids that the only way to learn, the only way to improve, the only way to get good in anything that you do, on or off the field is by making mistakes and failing. The issue is never the disappointing game or loss. The important issue is how do you handle it? And this is where the adults involved need to come in and help the young athlete see that the failing is always going to happen. The important lesson here is how do you learn to handle the “failing/disappointment” part.
In actuality, this is where all of the important learning takes place. Your son needs to learn to not blame himself for the team’s loss and instead to focus on what he can learn from this on-the-surface, very painful experience. Help him do this by sharing with him some of your own failures and how these painful experiences ultimately helped you get better at the various things that you do. Personally, I can tell you that my most excruciating, embarrassing and disappointing experiences in sports always turned out to be the ones where I learned the most and which jump started tremendous improvement!
The key lesson here is that no matter what level you play at, FAILURE IS SIMPLY FEEDBACK AND FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!