A common theme amongst American families is the years of peewee football, wrestling, soccer, and baseball that we expose our children to. A parent wants nothing more than for their children to find exactly what makes them happy, so that they can have hobbies to break the monotony of school, chores, and homework. However, often times the young athletes get very passionate about their sport, and tend to feel pressured to perform well for themselves, or their parents.
It’s easy to spend an hour a day playing catch with your child to help sharpen the skills; take them to a stadium to watch exactly how the pro’s do it; but that only shows them how the physical aspect of sports should look. What are we doing to help them mentally?
Recently, I witnessed my son mentally destroy himself during his Jiu-Jitsu practice. During the submissions drills, he did just fine, but when it was time to go “live” (spar with another teammate), he began to fall apart. With each failed attempt at a submission, or failed take down, his focus began to deteriorate, as well as his performance. By the end of his practice session, I could tell he was mentally exhausted, he was in tears from frustration, and even his coaches were torn from seeing him beat himself that way. For a good while, I found myself struggling to figure out what to tell him. In the military, it’s easy to look at a man and tell them, “Suck it up!” – that doesn’t work too well with kids.
One of the lessons I learned dealing with recruits in the military that has helped me with my children is that they only know what you teach them, or what they have learned from experiences you provide for them. So, that entire evening was spent with my son and I discussing some mental tips that I would teach my men during their toughest phase of training.
A lesson I learned long ago from my brother is, if you can’t imagine yourself winning the fight, you have already lost! This has held a lot of wight with me throughout the years, and has taught me that without a positive attitude, succeeding at even the smallest of tasks can be very difficult. I explained to my son that if we were to anylize what it takes to win a fight, it would be something like:
If he were to go into a match and start off with a negative attitude, he has essentially given his opponent the upper hand because he is 70% removed from his future victory. This doesn’t only apply to martial arts. To be frank, pretty much everything we do can be related to a battle between success, and failure. Football games, chess tournaments, our finrst job interview, are all things that we stress about. We try and visualize exactly how things will pan out before we even step foot on that field. If we visualize failure, usually the result is just that; However, by being optimistic (in my case – cautiously optimistic), we have a much greater chance at achieving victory.
Success and failure
Another lesson that I passed on to my son is that there are always two sides to a coin – success and failure. What I mean by this is that in all of our success we can find failure, and in all of our failures, we can also find success – it is your choice to decide which side of the coin you will focus on.
For example, on the same training day that my son was overwhelmed with frustration, he had achieved so many small victories during his training session! He successfully performed his first cart-wheel, he was able to perform many complex moves on his opponents, and even got a few complex takedowns during some of the practice drills. However, when he failed to do the same during the live sparring, none of this seemed to matter! This caused him to get overly frustrated, and eventually caused him to lose his fight. It wasn’t until we were about halfway home that he was able to calm down, and realize all of the things that he did great during that day.
Since then, we make it a point to discuss all of the things that he succeeded in, and all of the things that he failed at after every practice.
Keep the end in mind
Lastly, it is important that you ensure your athlete is more focused on the desired end-state, and not so much on the little negative things that happen on the way there. Help you’re athlete understand what progress is, and how it is necessary to achieve their overall goal.
So, what is progress?
I explained it to my son like this:
Progress is each little step that you take as you’re trying to climb a mountain, though you will likely fall from time to time, as along as you pick yourself up and take another step, you will eventually reach the top.
Now, instead of focusing so much on winning or losing the fight, we tend to focus on the small victories he has on his technique, his strength, and his attitude.
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