See Challenges in Sports Instead of Fear

By Dr. Chris Stankovich

Human perception is a really funny thing – what people “see” is really as individual as each person. Our perceptions rely in large part on past experiences, our values, and our expectations based on times in the past when we were in similar situations.

In some cases, when kids have a tough time improving in their sport their perception can change very quickly from looking at situations as challenges to instead seeing them as scary and threatening. Obviously, the perception your child takes when it comes to athletic skill improvement and mastery will make all the difference in the world when it comes to his or her eventual success (Mind of Steel).

So how does your child’s perception impact his or her athletic success? Very simply – what he or she “sees” when preparing for a practice/game is a very unique, subjective human experience and will ultimately play a major role in whether he or she works hard and with great confidence – or “chokes” on the very first play.

More specifically, successful athletes will typically see challenges when they approach practices and games, whereas inexperienced young athletes will tend to see overwhelming, fearful situations that they perceive to be more than they can handle (Sports Success 360)

Teaching your child the importance of perception, especially how it plays such a major part in athletic success, is vitally important for your child’s self-improvement (regardless of whether he plays little league, AAU, or Pop Warner football). When you look at a bed of roses, do you see the flowers or the thorns? Both are there, yet it is the individual who determines what to focus his or her attention toward.

With sports, teaching your child to interpret difficult situations as challenges will help your child “play to win,” whereas allowing tough situations to scare him or her will consequently put your child’s mindset in a “play to avoid losing” perception.When your child perceives situations as challenges, his or her mind and body will work in synchrony and greater self-confidence will emerge. Research clearly shows that confidence is directly related to peak performances, and your child’s perception will dramatically impact his or her confidence!

On the other hand, when your child perceives situations as catastrophes, his or her body will immediately respond with anxiety, which will in turn cause all kinds of problems with focus, concentration, and ultimately athletic success. When your child “chokes,” more often than not he or she missed the play not because she didn’t know what to do, but instead because she never really felt as though she was going to make the play in the first place. Again, your child’s initial perception of the situation probably played a major role in the outcome, not necessarily her skill set.The next time your child goes out and plays, think about the following tips for success:

:> Only your child can determine whether a situation is a challenge or a threat. Remind your child of this each time he suits up to play!
> If your child begins to get nervous about a situation, try to help him or her reframe the problem.

For example, if the game starts off rough, remind your child about how much time you have to be successful and still come out on top.> Remind your child that he or she is playing against other kids roughly the same age and skill level. For most kids, this gets quickly overlooked in pressure situations, or in situations that are unfamiliar. Just like with the pros, on most days anyone can beat anyone – it’s all about who comes to play!

> Always reward your child for effort, even if the result isn’t winning or success.

As your child begins to see your happiness with his or her effort, future situations will be met head on with even more confidence and a mindset that looks at situations as challenges rather than threats. With this mindset you can be guaranteed your child will play up to his or her highest ability!

Dr. Stankovich has written/co-written five books, including Positive Transitions for Student Athletes, The ParentsPlaybook, Mind of Steel. All of this and much more available at

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