Play Week Aotearoa

8 December 2023

St Andrew's Junior Volleyball game throwing ball

Written by Director of Sports Strategy, John Haggart

As we work towards embracing our ‘Balance is Better’ approach across all sports at St Andrew’s College, we need to consider the value of play and the benefits it brings to the well-being and development of our rangatahi. This week is Play Week and a reminder to us all about why our athletes play sport in the first place. We know from our research at the College it was overwhelmingly for enjoyment and to be with mates.

As coaches and parents, we can have a major impact on the motivation and desire of kids to ‘love the game’ and want to keep playing. Parent and coach behaviour is a critical piece on whether our kids continue to stay in the game.

In the article below, mental performance expert and former professional golfer, John Haime from New Edge Performance, discusses the impact of parents and coaches living vicariously through young football players and outlines a few steps to make positive change.

Do You Have a Frustration Gap?

Many parents see their child on the pitch or the training ground for what they’d like their child to be and not what the child truly is. The gap between what we would like to see from the young player, and what the young player is at this moment, is what I call the Frustration Gap. Parents watch their kids perform and the frustration builds… and builds… and builds, as the parent waits for the child to reach the performance level the parent hopes to see. While this frustration is not much fun for the parent, it is less fun for the child who is constantly trying to live up to the parent’s expectations. Usually, those expectations are unrealistic and not in line with the child’s abilities or motivations. This tension is both a performance crusher and can send the young footballer to the land of video games.

The Mini-Van Football Prison

Is your vehicle a ‘mini-van football prison?’ Is your child trapped in the vehicle as you express your frustration? While your intentions are good, your budding professional becomes the target for all sorts of emotions you felt while watching and expecting more. Your child is conveniently trapped in the vehicle and must listen to your frustration.

“What happened out there today?”
“You looked tired out there. Was that it?”
“Why don’t you try harder?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot when you had the chance…”

These questions all begin a spiral of frustration between a young athlete and parent. Unfortunately, these opening lines often lead to deeper criticisms and questions all resulting from the parent’s frustration as the child doesn’t quite reach the expectations created by… the parent! I really wish I could measure how much confidence the mini-van prison syndrome has destroyed in young players. All I know is that it’s a problem, and awareness of your own car rides after the match is something to consider.

Some Ideas to Help

To help you and your young footballer avoid the frustration gap and the mini-van prison, and keep them in the game playing for a lifetime, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Step back emotionally. Don’t forget this is your child’s life and experience.
    It’s a joy of being a parent to live through our kids, but this can be taken too far. If you become obsessed with your child succeeding in the game and living up to expectations you set, you may need to re-evaluate and step back.

  • Make the car rides positive experiences. Don’t talk about the match or training in the car.
    The only game talk should focus on effort and not result. Let the child know you are their biggest supporter and will be whether they play well or make mistakes, win or lose.

  • Praise achievement. Don’t be critical or instructive.
    Learn to praise achievement and not focus on your child’s limitations. Make sure the child knows you are proud of a great play/match, etc.

  • Focus on process and effort. Don’t be too results oriented.
    Your priority for your child needs to be that they feel good about themselves and happy so that they are motivated to play again tomorrow.

  • Let your young footballer do what is right for them now. Don’t push the child based on your desires.
    Encouraging your child is great, but don’t cross the line and push your child further than they want to go right now.

  • Let coaches coach! Don’t be both the parent and coach.
    Getting coaching and instruction both from parents and coaches confuses the child and has little positive impact.

  • Adjust your expectations. Don’t allow your frustration to build.
    Letting your Frustration Gap build is not helpful for both you and the child. A parent who bottles up frustration becomes a ticking time bomb waiting for an opportunity for the frustration to become uncorked.

  • Every child makes mistakes! Don’t hyper-focus on your child.
    Parents put their own children under a microscope and live and die by each movement the child makes. This hyper-focus on your own child, watching their every move, creates a lack of perspective relative to the other kids on the pitch and the game in general.

So, keep this in mind when your child is playing. If they are one of the chosen few that do go on to college scholarships, big academies, or professional football, great. But 99 per cent of kids won’t go on to reach these levels. The important thing is set the table for these young players to go and enjoy what is the most beautiful game of all… for a lifetime.

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