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Parents as Partners: Becoming a High-Performing Sport Parent

Post #1: Re-considering failure as opportunities for development

“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” – Vince Lombardi

In strength training, there is a phase where an athlete builds the most muscle.  This is called the anabolic phase.  In the anabolic phase, the athlete needs to do more work than the muscle can handle.  That is, it needs to overload the muscle and break it down.  If we never exceed the capacity of the muscle, it will never get bigger or stronger.

If we think of this from the perspective of emotional development, I think it is very interesting.  Effectively we are saying that we need to overload something or someone to get better.  So as our children explore high performance sport, in order to achieve their capacity – we need to expose them to situations that will enable them to grow.  And just as with physical preparation in which the failure of the muscle to handle load means that it will be challenged to increase capacity, the same is true of emotional growth.  If we want our children to grow, we have to be willing to let them fail.  And we need to conceptualize failure as a necessary part of the growth process.

If you speak with someone who specializes in physical preparation, you will quickly realize that this is not done haphazardly.  They know that you must be purposeful and strategic in how much load you place on an athlete.  Only so much growth can be tolerated at one time.  Sometimes, when we have a child who is gifted, we can place them in challenging situations perhaps a bit too much.  We get excited and see the skill they possess, but we may not consider the emotional ramifications of these decisions. Perhaps we need to consider the emotional weight that early success carries.  Sport is no longer fun for these kids, they have a job to do each time they hit the pool, ice, court or track.  So as we make decisions for our children, we need to perhaps take into consideration how a situation will impact them emotionally and consider this as we build opportunities into their life.

In physical preparation, sometimes the athlete is injured; and injured tissue does not respond in the same way as healthy tissue.  We would never push an athlete once an injury has taken place, as this would not make good sense.  Sometimes life can be hard on our children.  They are incredibly talented but they may have a few bad competitions or fall victim to politics in the local community.  At times, pushing through may be the best thing to do.  But in other cases, maybe we need to work to help our children heal.  We lose too many talented people from the sporting system because they are simply too emotionally beat up to carry on.  Make sure you are providing your child with the tools they need in order to manage the many emotional demands that take place in elite sport.

Keep the conversation going…

  • Make sure to consider the emotional impact negative experiences have on your child.
  • Make sure to consider the emotional energy it takes to successfully manage sport and ensure that your child has the necessary capacity.
  • Make sure not to avoid failure, given that is a necessary component of growth.
  • Make sure to work to help your child heal if they have sustained repeated emotional injuries.