In the heat of a game, it’s easy to lose our cool. It happens to all of us – parents, coaches, officials and athletes. But maintaining self-control in the face of challenges, adversity and disappointment is one of the great life lessons that sports can uniquely teach our kids. And while we’d all like to hope that our kids just ‘know what to do’ when the moment presents itself, a little coaching and some clever tips can go a long way toward giving your kids the tools they need to keep their cool in sports and in life.
Take a day at practice or some time at home to walk through this six-step approach and companion exercise to help teach your athletes how to keep their cool in frustrating moments.
Take a break. When you’re feeling upset and frustrated, sometimes we all just need a quick break to re-center ourselves. Call time-out. Sub out for a play and take a deep breath on the bench.
Name That Tune. Sometimes it takes recognizing and naming a feeling to then be able to cool down. Encourage kids to notice how their body is feeling to recognize and name the emotions that accompany those feelings, and then to be able to say, “I feel….”. “Is your face red? Are your hands clenched? Are your shoulders tense? Okay – that sounds like you might feel ‘mad’.”
Count to 10. Having recognized and named an emotion (“mad!”), they can start to recover, maybe counting to ten – “ten Mississippi” if a bit more time is needed – to help the body slow down and give the brain a chance to process and think.
What Are My Options? Help your athletes take a minute to think through the options for dealing with the emotion. Yell and scream? Kick dirt? Walk away? Tell the other athlete – in nice words – why you are angry? Brush it off and move on to the next play? Help your children think through all of the potential options, and then give them the chance to pick what they think is the best option.
Try this exercise in practice or at home: write a scenario at the top of the page, “An opposing player just committed a dirty foul on me!” and then split the page into two columns, one labelled Good Options, the other labelled Bad Options. Then have your athletes write down all of the possible actions they could take and place each action under either Good or Bad. (You can do this exercise as a team with players providing answers together and deciding whether each should go under Good or Bad.) Once all the possible choices are listed, circle the best choice and discuss why it is the best. (This page can turn into a poster that may be a great addition to the locker room for the season, reminding kids that there are lots of options but that as a team you’re striving for the best option and the one that maintains self-control and good sportsmanship.)
Act Out The Best Choice. Step five is to practice acting on the best choice from the Good Options you selected in step 4; don’t just think it in your head. This suggestion may seem more like drama class than sports practice, but act out the best-choice emotion. Think improv: how can you demonstrate and show the emotion if you had no words? It might feel like you’re over the top, but by being overly effusive with emotions in this acting, your athletes cement the ‘best choice’ in their minds, their emotions and their body language.
Next! Get focused on the next play, the next pitch, the next side change, the next round. Some teams use visual cues like a “brush it off” sign or a “flush it” hand gesture to remind everyone to let it go, reset, refocus and get back into the game.
Keeping your cool can be tough, especially when the contest isn’t going your way, the fouls aren’t being called, the scoreboard doesn’t reflect your effort, or when a cheap shot disrupts your concentration and flow. But athletes who learn how to stay calm, focused, and ready for what’s next are more likely to stay mentally or physically in the game and give their teams the best chance to win – on and off the ice.
The Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive™ program, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance, promotes good sportsmanship in youth sports so that our kids can have the fun and positive experience they deserve. We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support doing the right thing on and off the ice.
In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive™ program, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.
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