Striving for Sporting Dreams whilst Reducing Fears (part 2)

fear

Part 2

Reducing Fear – adapting beliefs

Continuing from part one and the importance of security in oneself (maturity) I want to talk about the benefits of growth and how it can help you reduce some key fears.

Fear has a power that keeps people stuck and scared to evolve and take risks. Fear stifles personal growth and maturity because we tend to lose our creativity and confidence. We hold tight to past beliefs that have previously kept us safe. I have seen parents and coaches who would rather hold onto long held beliefs even though that belief  is no longer helping a situation. These people would rather ‘be ‘correct’ in their own minds and remain ‘true to oneself’ than risk a change of belief that could yield greater benefits in the outside world. For them, it is easier this way. Knowing they are 100% correct it is easier to lash out and blame anything but themselves for the way things keep turning out. Such self protection goes by this rationale; “My belief is rock solid and always worked before so it can’t be my fault. It must be the other people who are wrong or it’s just bad luck.”

Example :

Belief A ) We have always worked till exhaustion in the gym, it gets you fitter, it never did me any harm. It makes you tough.

Belief B) On certain sessions it is best to train moderately and slowly without a detailed plan. It can keep you rested, fresh and ready to go when the competition arrives.

Both opinions are valid here, dependent upon the situation. However, a young player I know has suffered at the rigidity of a parent always coming back to Belief A ‘hard work makes you tougher.’ In itself, this could be very true but in this case, because the inability to change tact and repeat the same strategy, the youngster became exhausted. She became scared to express an opinion, to explain she was tired and began to presume she was soft because she struggled to complete tough physical work. Needless to say the parent began to make excuses as he could not bear to investigate the possibility “his way” was not the “appropriate way” for his daughter. So everything else was blamed: other people, playing conditions, coaching systems and even equipment.

For me, this parent was scared. They had fear. Fear their daughter would not be fit enough and too soft, fear that she would not win, fear their social status would drop. They got STUCK and still are to this day.

3 Modern Fears

1- As time goes by expectations of what a successful and happy life feels like appears to increase. EXTERNAL credentials have become vital for happiness and even just a sense of peace. The more you own, the more you earn, the bigger your house, the more achievements and the higher your social “following” the closer you are to the dream life and that thirst to “have enough”. Achievements of any form, particularly those of peoples children offers a temporary relief from the pressure, as you extrapolate to a future where ‘more success must be coming’.

Fear 1I don’t have enough yet, I may never be enough, and people may never respect me unless I achieve more, earn more and be more than who I am. I lack what the others have. I cannot live in poverty or below the standard of my peers.

2- Lots of us have become more concerned by our “PR” compared with previous generations. Our Social Media profiles, opinions, connections, followers and “news timeline” has now become a massive and important part of our “successful life” formula. We can carefully edit the ‘life’ we want to portray and show all those old school friends, colleagues and enemies the tale we want them to see. Repeatedly taking ‘selfies’ (until we get the right one to publish) is a current example of our PR concerns. For some, a ‘like’, ‘share’ or retweet have become a shot of much needed energy to our self-esteem; Temporary relief that we matter and are valued by our tribe of followers. “Keeping up with the Jones’ “ has never been so rife.

Fear 2I must show my life is ‘happening’ I am worthy of  status. My opinions must be significant because otherwise I may not be noticed or valued by my community or even my own family. I hope I/we don’t get left behind. I must be modern and relevant or I may be left behind forever.

3- Do not mess life up, do it properly. With all the modern support, help and expertise available at our fingertips we have no more excuses if we fail. The standards of expertise and specialisms have increased so rapidly that if we are not keeping up with the latest advice we can panic. You see this now in the industry of ‘how to look after babies’ – the unbelievable detail and support your parents never had can begin to make you paranoid if you neglect every new piece of kit or advice. (I’ve seen grown adults argue over the £750 pram versus the £1000 model!) This has certainly occurred in sports coaching expertise and sports science.  Perfection seems so attainable doesn’t it?

Fear 3I must make sure I do everything possible to help them win and improve and copy what the modern sports stars do. If I don’t, then I am unworthy and don’t love my children much as I should. Will I be an unfit parent, have I let them down? I do not want to ruin their potential or hold them back in any way. If they are losing now will they be losers forever? 

We have to recognise such concerns in ourselves if we are to move beyond them. This is the first step and most important step. We must recognise in ourselves the games that fear plays with us, arguably more so in modern life than ever before.

Think: Are you allowing such fears to penetrate your Child’s sporting journey?  When it comes to “COMPETITIONS” is it hard to escape such fears not only for them but about your life as a whole?

In sport there is a greater Modern Dilemma.

EXPECTATIONS HAVE WIDENED, BUT THE OPPORTUNITIES HAVE VIRTUALLY REMAINED THE SAME.

Contrary to what the marketing would have you believe there can still only be so many Gold Medallists, Premiership footballers or Olympic swimmers. Simple maths points out that therein lies a problem.

Of all the amazing and talented friends I had in school and college, of all thousands me and my colleagues have taught/coached in schools and colleges since 1996 there are less than 10 who earned money from playing professional sport. Unfortunately, many hundreds left feeling ashamed or like failures because they did not get to a standard of performance that they vastly underestimated. A problem identified by many for people dropping out of sports and worse still becoming depressed with it all.

(*depression generally, is on the rise with more prescriptions of anti-depressants being given to people than ever before)

Many can accept their shortcomings which is refreshingly helpful and then divert their energy elsewhere putting competitive experiences to good use. Some take pride knowing they gave it a go and move forward continuing to risk and compete. Unfortunately many struggle to come to terms with it- “I coulda, woulda, shoulda”, still haunting them to their current days. Nowadays, with an even greater global population of strivers in all parts of the world, it is ever more difficult to attain the “professional dream” and therefore we face a possible endemic of depressed once ‘junior talents’ that never lose the nagging feeling of being ashamed with themselves because of who they let down and disappointed. Tragically but relevant here many parents too can carry such shame. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? All that time and money spent, who’s to blame?
Shame never leads to any good, does it? It rarely gets talked through and buries itself deep into the family psyche.

The Help Illusion – ‘a well meaning trap’
A controversial view of mine is that on the back of this growing trend of chasing the dream, many coaching academies and individual coaches have become thriving businesses by exploiting needy parents.

There has been a rise of the “professional junior”. Youngsters who need to be treated and supported just as if they were actually already full time, tax paying professionals. Consequently, more time, more money and more attention is showered upon the process of maintaining those ‘pro’ standards!

I am not suggesting this is intentional or wicked in any way, simply a by-product of market demand. I believe we are all part of a “help illusion” where we are feeding off each other’s neediness. Coaches have bills to pay, parents have children that must be better. I admit to being part of it myself and it is something that worries me. There are deeper problems in the world of course, yet the danger I have seen is that the “help illusion” is taking away from play, fun, independence, creativity and risk. Maybe it is that fear again –  What if they don’t work it out for themselves? What will happen to my income? Will they depend on me anymore? What if they move to another coach who uses more modern information and equipment? What if they lose faith in me? Consequently, even the most well meaning coach can ‘sellout’ their basic values just to keep those fears at bay. Hence the rise of the coaches that could ‘sell sand in a desert’ and smile whilst taking your money.

It is a tricky balance. Some find that balance, many do not.  In any industry you get poor, average and very good professionals, think of your past teachers for instance. You get some however that are exceptional. In my experience they are the coaches who know how to back off children, make them earn information and have a way of affecting the INTERNAL minds of each child they help. They are just as likely to say “go away for a few weeks now” or “no you don’t need to pay £400 to come on a coaching camp, go and enjoy your holidays, be a child instead – you play enough (insert sport) as it is!” An exceptional coach can put the child’s welfare first before their own financial affairs, partly due to a lack of fear in their own futures. They know the value of what is going on inside the young developing mind, how it changes by the year and how they relate to their sport. They care not for the marketing potential of the child; they are not “their” player they are simply children trying to learn a sport and how to win at it if they compete. They have less fear in them, they know each situation is unique. The exceptional coaches are rare nowadays.

Solutions?
As parents and coaches we need to be mindful of focussing too much on the ‘external’ whilst supporting the dreams and young innocent ambitions. It is heart-warming that youngsters are dreaming and being inspired to push their expectations, we certainly need that as a society. It is important however that they keep a healthy dose of reality.

As their leaders we can point out that competitive sport is not simply ‘a means to an end’, the end being a pro contract or an appearance at the Olympics. Better perhaps to ‘see what emerges’ on each stage of the path knowing new heights can be achieved but it is by no means a failing to stop, even turn around or take another path, at any moment that feels right to. Be as competitive as they want to be but remind them that winning and losing aren’t as defining to their mental health and self esteem as they can start to believe. There are other parts to life and many of their deep wants can be attained there also: education; friendships; hobbies; work; play.

Maybe this will keep us all more grounded, less panicked and healthier all round. We don’t want burnout or depression associated with children neither in Education, Sport or even “sports parenting”. Yes be ambitious and inspired, yet help ease the pressure by working on reducing your own fears. Focus on your INTERNAL strengths of character more than the EXTERNAL impressions and what others may or may not think of you. Keep to your own standards and family agreements. Be secure in who you are and dare to change your beliefs sometimes.

Now in 2016 unfortunately most education systems have degenerated into ‘grade factories’ so be careful not to do the same with junior sport, where the only judgement of overall experience/learning comes as an END RESULT. Sport is a place children can escape this  ‘means to an end’ philosophy that kills off play, risk, fun and most importantly happiness.

In 20 years I am convinced we will look back and think;

“what on earth were we doing through the coaching boom years of the early 21st century. We professionalised children way too much and we all tried way too hard. All that drama and worry, what was all that about?”

I urge you to keep this in mind otherwise you may miss the point.You may miss out on enjoying your time as parents who have children who compete in sports.

Finally, time and time again we see the happiest and healthiest people in any walk of life tend to be the self sufficient ones, the secure and the adaptable. The ones that can be seriously committed yet at the same time can laugh at themselves. Give them that example by the way you deal with their young sporting journey. Competitive sport can be such a marvellous adventure and if you are careful a beautiful message can be learned and experienced by your children :

Win or lose on the scoreboard, never be afraid to go for it or change your approach because no matter what I have the inner security to go forward

 

Danny Massaro
July 2016

‘The Winning Parent’ available at Amazon.

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