Dealing with the rejection of being released

An Introduction…

I have decided to look at this area of children’s sport as it comes hand in hand with academy life (football at least) but does not seem to be treated with enough care and attention by the clubs that implement the procedure.

The funny thing is, it’s taken me about 8 months to feel like it’s a topic I want to deal with due to the fact that, having gone through it from the point of view of a parent, it was so emotional to go through once I wasn’t sure I wanted to re-visit it again! However I really believe that if I can help just one person get through it a little easier and shed a little light onto a rather dark and somewhat taboo subject, I will feel glad.

The cut throat nature of high level sport is very obvious, with athletes and sports people being at the height of their sport one minute and then seemingly disappearing the next. The unnerving thing is that this ‘cut throat’ approach is not only used towards adults but children too, some as young as 9 years old. My experience of this relates souly to football but I’m sure similar situations occur across other sports too. Maybe to a slightly lesser extent but still enough to leave children emotionally scarred and needing a lot of care and attention to ensure they come out the other side as well-rounded, balanced individuals who still want to take part in sport.

Depending on how the club has dealt with the child will greatly influence the effect the ‘release’ has on the child. In an ideal world the club would have had a good channel of communication with the child and family therefore the news that they are being released should not come as a complete surprise. However if this is not the case then the event will come as a shock to all involved and the child will feel a great deal of initial anger and sadness.

 

How to help you child understand and deal with their feelings…

It will depend on each individual child as to how often they will experience feelings of sadness, anger etc. so unfortunately there is no one set solution that will work for every child. Not what you want to hear I’m sure! However, a common time that most children will feel this way is at bedtime. This is when children are beginning to unwind and are left alone with time to think about things. The best thing to do as a parent is to let them talk and listen to them. Reassure them that it’s OK to feel angry and upset and that you are there for them. Try to focus them on the future and the positive things in their life. Distraction is key and helping them, by guiding their thoughts on to the good and positive things they have in their life to look forward to, will help ease the immediate negative emotions they are feeling.

It is important that you help the child to understand and identify what makes them happy so that they can do these things when they are feeling sad or low. This can literally be anything! Whatever that individual child feels; from reading or listening to music, to going for a run or drawing. This activity acts as a distraction to stop them dwelling on their sadness or anger over their release. If there’s one of those activities that you can do together that is even better as being with someone not only opens up the channels of communication, but shows that that person supports the child and is there for them. Obviously this is age dependent: younger children might need more help from parents than older children, but this is not to say that older children should be expected to do this independently all the time.

Giving the child lots of other activities to focus on is also important and it would be good to include involvement in other sports. Being in an academy can prevent children from having the time to take part in any other sport due to the commitment it requires. Allowing them to try other sports will help them to socialise with their peers as well as giving them the opportunity to do well at sport again. This will subsequently increase their levels  of self-confidence and self-esteem. It will also help fill the time that used to be filled with training.

In my past experience with this, keeping your child distracted and busy are the key objectives initially, as is continually reassuring them that you love them and how great they are at different things. It’s useful to note that when there is unstructured time that is when the child will do a lot of reflecting about what’s happened. A good thing to do here would be to encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling and their thoughts.

It is important to remember that time really is an amazing healer. Every child will differ in the amount of time it takes for them to move forward but they will, all you can do as a parent is to be there for them and support them in the best way you can.

There are so many areas to consider after a child has been released that I can’t do it all in one post! The other areas I will be covering at a later date will include; The effect it has on parents; how long until your child ‘feels better’; when will your child want to play football again? As well as different approaches clubs should use.

Until next time…

Boosting confidence: Ways to help at home.

There are many ways that you can help improve your child’s confidence as a parent at home. However, the approaches you use will only work if what you’re doing at home is being complemented by good coaching practices. The child needs to be getting the same message at home and at training otherwise the outcome will not be as effective as it could be.

It’s important to remember that if their lack of self confidence is reflected in poor performance, the child may feel like they are letting you the parent, and their coach down. They must realise that you disassociate them from their sport. Their sport is merely something that they do, it does not define who they are. Reassure them that everybody has times when they have dips in confidence and where things don’t always go right as a result. It is important that they know this is perfectly normal and does not only happen to them. You could use examples of where this has happened to their sporting heroes to help reassure them.

Approaches that I have used before are:

The use of a diary:

Encourage your child to write in their diary every night about their day. Each entry has to include one thing they have done that they are proud of. This is done to build up their general self confidence and self esteem. Being encouraged to focus on positive things will hopefully rub off onto their sporting life too as they have probably got in to the habit of focusing on the negative.

Working out positive words and statements to use at times when they are low in confidence during sport:

It is important to identify the areas where your child normally gets quite negative and down on themselves. These could be in a variety of situations for example; if they make a mistake, if their team start losing, if they keep missing shots on goal etc. (These are examples from football but your child will be able to identify areas from their sport.) It is then necessary to work out some positive counter statements that your child can say to themselves when they are in these situations. These statements or words should quickly bring them back in to a positive frame of mind so that their initial negative feelings are dealt with quickly so they don’t impact or effect their performance. An example of this is as follows:

Issue that effects confidence: Missing a shot on goal

Talk with your child about how they feel when this happens as it is important that they acknowledge how they feel. They then have to come up with a statement or 3 words that they can say to themselves to prevent these feelings negatively impacting their performance. It is important that they come up with the words/statement themselves as it will be most effective this way. Upon missing a shot on goal the child may say: Head up; Be strong; Lets go. These words are going to be unique to the child and are the words that they feel will work the best for them. It is best that your child practices saying these words in a relaxed environment to start with before they take them into training or a competitive environment. The more they practice them and believe in what they are saying, the more effective the results will be. They can have different sets of words or statements for each issue that they have problems with rather then using the same words each times if they wish.

Making a ‘What’s great about me’ poster:

This is a fun exercise that makes your child focus on what is great about being them. It doesn’t have to focus on their sport (but it can) and should include a minimum of three attributes about themselves that they are proud of. They can decorate the poster however they wish and they should put it somewhere where they can look at it whenever they need to. It can go up on their bedroom wall but they might want to put it somewhere more private, depending on their age.

Distraction:

Try and help your child not to fixate on that part of their life too much, otherwise it can make the problem appear bigger then it actually is to your child. Try and keep variety in their life to help keep a healthy balance for them. This could include simple things like organising play dates for them and letting them take part in other sports just for fun. Being sport specific at too young an age is not healthy for any child. Variety is the spice of life!

It’s important to think about when the best time to talk things through with your child is. For some children, talking about these things just before bed might leave them with too long to think them over and might effect their sleep. However, for other children this time of the day might be good as they feel these issues have been resolved and talked through and they can switch off to them. This is very specific to each child and and it’s important to choose a time that feels right to them.

Helping to improve low self confidence…

When a child is suffering from low self confidence it takes time for them to regain it and to start believing in themselves again. Children are naturally in tune with how they are feeling and can get frustrated when they start struggling to succeed in an area where they used to all the time. They may start to get feelings of self doubt which they might not have experienced before.

It is at times like this when it is really important they have a good support system around them which includes their coach. Someone who will give them the time and space they need to get through it. The coach should lower their expectations during this time and keep the feedback and praise positive and focused on what they are achieving and not on what they’re not. Believe me, they’ll know what they’re flaws and areas of weakness are, they won’t need reminding! It’s important that their coach (and parent) try to keep them focused on the positive so as to initially help improve their feelings of confidence, as if they are made aware of the things they are succeeding at it will help to motivate them and make them believe in themselves.

Sometimes to hear positive words from an influential adult or role model, someone who they look up to, can be extremely powerful and can help. Especially if they can sympathise with the child and say they have experienced similar feelings and how they coped. It’s important the child understands that everyone has these feelings from time to time and that they are not alone. It will get better.

The more the child has successful attempts or successful outcomes during their training session the more their confidence will grow. The area that is affecting their confidence will need to be addressed but should be dealt with patiently. Progress may be slow but the child should feel their coach believes in them and is not getting frustrated. Any progress that is being made should be celebrated but not overly so and no training session should focus souly on that issue. It should be varied so as not to cause further confidence damage through repeated failures.

Coping with negative feedback…

Unfortunately with competitive sport comes feedback and no matter how good they are, there will be times when the feedback will be critical and difficult for a child to cope with. This section is meant to give an insight into how children can feel when they are given negative feedback and to try to help people understand how damaging it can be if it is given incorrectly.

Children are naturally quite self analytical and tend to know when they have made a mistake. It’s not always necessary for a coach or a parent to dissect  performance errors in great detail straight after a game or performance as the child will know what they did well and where they made mistakes. They will probably feel quite disappointed in themselves if they have had a bad game or performance, so to then have those feelings compounded by criticism from a coach or parent will undoubtedly lead to feelings of low self esteem leading to low self confidence and probably lack of self belief. As a coach or parent it would be more beneficial to remain focused on what the child did well and only address the areas that could have been improved a few days later.

All children are different, therefore every child should be treated in a way that brings out the best in them. What works for one child could well have a negative effect on another. Nowadays, coaches tend to use the same approach for everyone, which may well explain why children who have the same physical ability as their peer group don’t always flourish and reach their perceived potential due to the universal approach used in certain settings. Some children need some form of  positive feedback during each training session as this helps build their feelings of self belief and reinforces their overall perception of themselves. These types of children thrive from positive feedback and it brings out the best in them and consequently brings out their best performance. Other children need less feedback from external sources and require only the knowledge that they are satisfied with their performance. Neither child is better then the other, they just require a different approach to bring out the best in them and coaches dealing with children should be able to adapt their approach to best suit the individual child.

A common feedback approach used today is the numerical grading system which is used to evaluate a child’s progress in their sport. I personally have seen it used in football academies, however I’m sure it’s used in other sports too. The child is given a performance score relating to how the coach feels they performed in their match. These scores are then fed back to the player in the form of a report with their average score for that period included too. Although the children are told not to compare scores with their team mates the inevitable always happens and, as this is how they are evaluated in all areas of school, they deduce that the child with the highest score is the best in the group and the child with the lowest is the worst. This form of feedback and it’s interpretation can be detrimental to a child’s level of confidence, as if they are consistently receiving lower scores than the rest of their peer group they will begin to feel they are the worst in the group. Over a long period of time these scores act as a form of reinforced failure and will result in a drop in self confidence and self belief which is then reflected in their performance on the pitch. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak. The child’s performance will merely reflect what they are being told.

This type of grading system only really benefits those children who are being consistently told that they are successful and top of their group. This is not unique to football, it is the same in any sport. Those players will have extremely high self confidence and a belief in their ability to perform at their best.

Tailoring feedback so that it is child specific would be the best approach to use with children, and keeping this feedback confidential would enable the child to process it and respond to it in the best way they could. Limiting the amount of negative comments and focusing the child on their successes would, in the long term, produce highly confident sports people who have high levels of self belief and who are motivated to take risks as they are not fearful of being negatively evaluated if they make mistakes.

Confidence…

Confidence. This is something that all participants in sport need whether they are children or adults, and can be the difference between success and failure. Funnily enough, too much or too little can be disastrous to performance so getting that balance right is critical.

It’s therefore important as a parent of a child involved in competitive or high level sport to try to help them be confident in themselves and in their ability. It’s also hugely important to be able to help them get through and manage times when there is a dip in self confidence, for whatever reason, and to develop effective coping strategies that work for your child.

If your child is suffering from low self confidence a good approach is to find out if anything is bothering them with regards to their sport or possibly from other external factors. It’s really important that they feel they’ve got someone to turn to who will listen to them and not judge them. Nine times out of ten it will be their parents that they want to talk to and get support from. When children are experiencing low self confidence it can show itself in many ways. A few of the ways I’ve seen it displayed in children include: a negative attitude about themselves including feelings of being rubbish and useless; being very down on themselves about even the slightest mistake; an unwillingness to want to take part in the sport; not enjoying their training sessions and I guess, at its worst, not wanting to compete or play in matches.

It’s important to reassure your child that it’s ok to make mistakes and have poor performances from time to time. They are only human. A good approach to take is to keep their lows high and their highs low – don’t fixate on a dip in performance or a plato in their ability level. You as a parent, are there to reassure them that they are great at what they do and that you believe in them. It’s important they know that you are there to support them through the good times as well as the bad.

A little about me…

I decided to start this blog as a way to offer some sort of advice and information to parents of children that are involved in sport. Having taken part in and coached gymnastics for many years and studied Psychology and Sport Science at Uni, I now have children of my own that are involved in sport at different levels. The mental side of sport is an area that I feel is greatly over looked, especially in children’s sport, and I feel that this is a way for me to pass on what I’ve learnt over the years to help parents that maybe feel over whelmed and are not sure how to handle the different  pressures that sport places on children.

During my coaching years and through watching the various coaching styles and approaches used with children, including my own, I have become aware of styles and approaches that bring out the best in them and those that have a negative effect. I have worked with children for over 20 years in various roles including as a nursery assistant, being a coach, a childminder, a mum and as a teaching assistant and learning support assistant in school. I feel that along the way I have come close to working out how to bring out the best in children and help them to realise their true capabilities.

I hope you enjoy my posts and find them useful