Help your child see challenges instead of fear

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Human perception is a peculiar thing. Our perceptions rely in large part on our values and on times in the past when we were in similar situations. When kids have a tough time improving in a sport, their perceptions can change quickly -- from looking at situations as challenges, to seeing them as scary and threatening. Obviously, the perception your child has of athletic skill improvement and mastery will make all the difference in the world to his eventual success (or lack thereof).

So how does your child's perception impact her athletic success? What he or she "sees" when preparing for a practice or game is a very unique, subjective experience and will play a major role in whether she works hard with confidence, or "chokes" on the first play. Successful athletes will typically see challenges when they approach practices and games, and inexperienced young athletes may tend to see overwhelming, fearful situations that are more than they can handle.

Teaching your child the importance of perception, especially how it plays a major part in athletic success, is vitally important for his self-improvement. 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 where to focus his or her attention. With sports, teaching your child to interpret difficult situations as challenges will help him "play to win," whereas allowing tough situations to scare him will put his mindset in a "play to avoid losing" mode.

Research shows confidence is directly related to peak performance. When your child perceives situations as challenges, her mind and body will work in sync and greater self confidence will emerge.

On the other hand, when your child perceives situations as insurmountable, his body will immediately respond with anxiety, which in turn may cause problems with focus, concentration, and ultimately, athletic success. When he messes up, more often than not he missed the play not because he didn't know what to do, but because he never really felt as though he was going to make the correct play in the first place. Again, his initial perception of the situation probably played a big role in the outcome, not necessarily his skill set.

Try these tips for success:

  • Only your child can determine whether a situation is a challenge or a threat. Remind her of this each time she suits up to play.
  • If your child gets nervous about a situation, try to help him reframe the problem. If the game starts rough, remind him about how much time he has to be successful and still come out on top.
  • Remind your child that she is playing against other kids about the same age and skill level. For most kids, this gets overlooked in pressure situations, or in situations that are unfamiliar. Even in the pros upsets can occur -- it's all about who comes to play.
  • Always reward your child for effort, even if the result isn't winning. As your child begins to see your happiness with her effort, future situations will be met head on with even more confidence. With this mindset, you can be guaranteed your child will play to his or her greatest ability.

Remind your child that she is playing against other kids about the same age and skill level.

More resources

Dr. Chris Stankovich offers individual athletic counseling and team/league seminars. Call (614) 561-4482, or visit for more details.