When it comes to parenting a young athlete, it’s easy to focus on results: a pizza party when your child’s team wins the playoffs, a special treat when he or she scores the game-winning goal. But for well-rounded, lifelong athletes, a focus on recognizing effort rather than results can yield more long-term benefits.
Praising results can have negative consequences: Studies have shown that kids who are praised for being ‘smart’ versus working hard, for example, are more likely to cheat on tests, and praising children for positive qualitiesversus praising their efforts can lead to lower self-esteem.
Mike Robbins, author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work and Focus on the Good Stuff, writes and speaks on how we can use positive psychology to appreciate our children’s efforts versus their victories, and here, he shares a few tips for how to reframe your praise to promote healthier, happier athletes.
“We need to encourage healthy, positive attitudes and practices,” says Robbins. “When you’re at that young age, you’re looking for what the right things are to do, and we need to help create that internal compass.” That means making an athlete feel fulfilled knowing that he or she worked hard, versus them winning the game. The trophy shouldn’t be the end goal for the athlete or for you as a coach or parent.
“The distinction I make is between recognition, which is about performance, and appreciation, which is about people,” says Robbins. Instead of focusing on the result—like scoring the winning goal—appreciation means focusing on the extra skills practice that an athlete did to perfect her shooting technique.
As a dad of two, Robbins faces differentiating between the two on a regular basis. “For a school project, for example, I don’t focus on the grade, I tell her that I’m impressed with how hard she worked on the project and the effort that she put in. That’s a life skill, a grade isn’t.”
“There’s an outcome: we want to win, score goals, get points, strike someone out,” admits Robbins. And we shouldn’t avoid talking about it, because whether we’re having the conversation out loud or not, a young athlete will have feelings on his win or loss. Be honest about how the game went.