Pan-Am Games Gold Medalist Dr. Jason Richardson knows a few things about sports. Here are some practical tips parents can share with their kids about building character.
• Stop saying “the problem is …” Fill in the blank. Too many people say the problem is with the coach, the school, the other kids, the equipment, the schedule – and so on. This kind of thinking implies failure because it immediately rules out your child’s goals. Instead, say things that rule in positive outcomes, such as, “I/We/You can do this!”
• Make failure a teachable moment. Sports can test a kid’s emotional fragility. They may want to give up with failure, but that’s a terrible lesson. If your child missed a free throw that would’ve won the team the game, encourage free-throw practice the next day. Better yet, ask them what they are going to do differently next time! Use a coach’s staple: remind your child that Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team during his sophomore year. Parents can always reward persistence and effort.
• Don’t let your child’s ego run wild. The flipside of low self-esteem due to failure can be cockiness with success. Children have far less experience keeping the ego in check, so if he/she is the best athlete in school, they may become arrogant. Try to catch this early; people evolve at different rates. Temper their ego by showing examples of humility, respect and gratitude. Use examples of great athletes who have overcome slumps or adversity.
• Show them how to be a better student. It may seem odd that a star quarterback can memorize every detail of a complex playbook, but has trouble with class studies. If he’s having trouble with chemistry, for example, place the playbook next to the textbook and show him the parallels of complexity. Don’t let him believe he’s “just a jock.”
Source: Dr. Jason Richardson (www.drjasonrichardson.com) is a psychologist who earned his principles for self-improvement as a world-traveling athlete, doctoral student and student of life. He maintained top-10 status on the professional BMX circuit for most of his 15-year career, retiring with a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games.