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Parental Feedback: How to Talk to Your Child About Sport

You want your child to succeed in their sport more than anything. Project Mbappe may well be underway and you’re providing them with all the support, advice and encouragement in the world.


But without knowing, you may be causing them more harm than good.

Pressure is the number one cause of sport dropout, and children who perceive parental pressure are more likely to have performance anxiety and burnout.


And a large source of sporting pressure children perceive comes from the dreaded car ride home. A journey home with a parent turned pundit can provide an uncomfortable experience for a kid, dampening their enjoyment of sport which is made worse by a cognitive bias in how we store memories.

The peak-end rule


The mind doesn’t work like a video recorder and instead, memories are encoded based on feelings and emotions rather than a rational average of the entire event.



Brain storage is limited so we economise our memories by focussing on the peak and end moments. The highlight and the closing ceremony. Emotions beat rationality when fighting for precious space in the mind.


And it makes sense. Remembering the best and the worst parts of an event helps us to repeat or avoid the situation in the future.

Peak-moments


Peak events cause the most emotion which means they are most easily remembered.


Peak moments can be positive or negative. Think about the last game you played or watched your child play. What comes to mind?


My bet is that you can probably remember the best and worst parts of the performance more so than the average ones in between. They triggered the most intense emotions and therefore were granted storage space in your mind.

End-moments


We change our memory of an event based on how it ends.

Think back to a bad ending of a movie or a rude waiter at the end of a meal and you may have said something like it “ruined the whole experience”. Recall a football game that spent 90-mins at 0-0 but was saved by a stoppage time winner, or a compliment you received as you were leaving work and you might’ve said "that made my day”.


The experience hasn’t changed, only your memory of it, which is disproportionately based on what happened at the end of an event but changes your perception of the entire thing.



The car ride home


So why’s this bias in our memory bad for youth sport and why does the car ride home have such an impact on drop out rates and sport enjoyment?


Picture this. You’ve just had fun with your friends doing something you enjoy. You get in the car only to be berated by your parent on your poor performance and apparent lack of effort.


“Why didn’t you shoot there?”

“You barely looked interested”

“Why did you do that?”

“What were you thinking?”


This Dad turned Jurgen Klopp rant goes on for 5-mins. No big deal right? 5-mins is an insignificant amount of time compared to a 90-minute game.

But…one small event at the end changes the memory of the whole experience. A disproportionate amount of weight is assigned to the peak and the end events of that day. Instead of just 5% of the experience, the car journey turns into 50% of the memory, which turns from a 9/10 to a 5/10, even though the average of the experience was a 7/10.



The end moment forms a large amount of your child’s automatic association to their sport. If their impulse is the memory of being told off in the car on the way home, they’re going to form a negative automatic association with their sport. Remember we store memories and make decisions based on emotions before rational judgements. Our mind works fast and impulsively before it works slowly and rationally.


This is why the car journey home is such a big deal and research has shown high dropout rates in youth sport, with a large risk factor being the car ride home.



5 Psychology tips for parents of youth athletes

1. End on a high note - Focus on the positives. What went well. Ask them what they enjoyed, if they had fun. Remind them of their session highlights and use the peak-end rule to your advantage to reinforce the positive peak and and optimistic-end.


2. Stick to soccer mom - not soccer coach - Talk to your child as a parent instead of another coach. If you want to run through tactics and performance advice, wait until you get home. Allow time to de-stress and let emotions settle.


3. Right type of support - Research shows children want their parents to be involved in a supporting manner (i.e. on effort, attitude and practical aspects), rather than to give too much technical or tactical advice. Ask what they want to hear - is it advice, encouragement or silence? Figure out what helps them, specific to them. How you talk to children about their sport can define if they stay in it.

4. Enjoyment first, performance second - If kids enjoy their sport first, then they will become intrinsically motivated and want to practice, play and improve.

5. Control your own emotions - Parents - you’re required to control your emotions as well as your child. And this can sometimes be even harder to do when you’re watching and have no control over the game. But, it’s important to set a good example.

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If you would like support with developing the mindset of your junior athlete, take a look at the services available from Mindframe Performance or get in touch

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