According to National Alliance for Youth Sports research, almost 70% of young athletes quit competitive sports by the time they hit their teenage years.
Although the reasons range from the overall cost of athletics to a desire to try new things, parents and coaches can’t overlook the fact that, as teams become more and more competitive, success – or failure – has the opportunity to make or break each kid.
Not every 10U player is going to make the NHL. Most of them will not – that’s a given. And it’s also where parents and coaches can make the biggest impact, said Eric Eisendrath of the Positive Coaching Alliance.
“If they’re not ‘good enough,’ players get phased out of the game at a very young age,” Eisendrath said. “Coaches and parents often tell players, ‘You’re really talented.’ The problem is that, when that player has a bad game, it’s easy for him or her to feel like they’re no longer talented. As a result, self-confidence can erode very quickly.
“We want coaches and parents to look beyond who’s the fastest skater, and focus on qualities like being a great teammate, having outstanding hockey sense, or some other ‘intangible’ quality the players possess,” he continued. “This helps build self-confidence, and the players who possess it will likely persevere through the challenges and roadblocks that they’ll invariably face.”
However, that doesn’t mean showering young players with empty praise for everything they do.
“Many parents and coaches think that they can hand kids self-esteem by telling them they’re talented or giving them trophies,” said Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology for Success. “That doesn’t do it. Teaching them how to learn and grow and thrive in the face of obstacles… that’s what gives kids self-esteem.”
And that growing self-esteem? It’ll help sons and daughters thrive away from the rink, too.
“Successful athletes are almost always self-confident,” Eisendrath said. “Look at the skills necessary to be a successful athlete – things like determination, goal-setting, being sacrificial, and working well under pressure. They’re all life skills that will serve kids well both on and off the ice.”
In his book Orr, My Story, NHL great Bobby Orr wrote, “Sometimes we are reminded that there are things far more important than hockey. But there is probably not much that is more important than the things a life in hockey can teach you.”
Whether you’re a parent, coach or friend, Eisendrath offers these five ways you can create self-confident kids – both on and off the ice.
1. Give them meaningful and positive feedback.
The first thing to recognize in giving feedback is when to deliver it. What could be taken as criticism, if delivered at the wrong time, can be just as easily be taken positively when shared in a different moment. So, recognize when to share information and when to wait for a better time.
Next, think about the type of feedback you’re giving. Is it focused on the process and mastery or the result? Is it general (“Good job!”) or more specific (“Great job using your body to protect the puck!”)?
The more specific you are with your words, the more effective you’ll be.
2. Make sure your criticism is constructive.
Too often, criticism is delivered with no positive value. Frustrated coaches simply point out all the things players do wrong, instead of explaining the adjustments they need to make to do better next time.
To combat this, try using if-then statements. People are naturally results-driven, so give them information that lets them know what’s in it for them.
Here are a couple of examples:
“If you lengthen your stride, you will increase your speed.”
“If you get lower, you’ll be more sturdy on your skates and harder to knock off the puck.”
3. Let them feel empowered to make decisions.
This is a great goal. But, if a parent or coach is truly able to follow through on this, he or she must realize and accept that mistakes will be made. In the long run, this approach will increase a player’s self-confidence, as you’ll send a clear message that you trust the player.
In the event that the “wrong” decision is made, make sure to ask open-ended questions (like “What did you see?” or “What would you do differently next time?”), as opposed to telling the player what she or he did wrong. That way, you’ll instill confidence, not doubt.
4. Be a good role model.
Let’s teach our children to honor the game through respecting Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self (ROOTS). If you want your players to behave this way, you must show them how.
Athletes will be far more influenced by what they see from you rather than what you say. Don’t worry that your kids won’t listen to you; worry that they are watching you all the time.
5. Create opportunities for success.
Coaches and parents should set goals for every player so that they can experience some kind of success. This can be accomplished by utilizing tools such as stretch goals and just-right challenges, which motivate athletes to go a little bit beyond where they are presently.
In addition, define success not just by how players play, but how they contribute to the overall team. Are you a leader? Do you make those around you better? Are you constantly seeking to learn? Do you always give maximum effort? This is what defines a true competitor. If parents and coaches embrace these characteristics, then their definition of success will be likely be shared by their players as well.