Parents sign their children up to play a sport because of the physical benefits and character building that go hand-in-hand with being part of a team.
One way children ages six to 12 build character is by learning to make good decisions. Consistently delivering a great performance on the field is based on the ability to frequently and quickly make good decisions. Although challenging to teach, good decision making is a critical skill for success on the field and off.
There is nuance in the ability to make a solid assessment and act decisively upon it. The high-pressure environment of a game or competition compounds the importance of these skills. Excellent decision makers take control of a situation and make sure the outcome benefits them; they make things happen, not let things happen to them.
Teaching your child how to decide something is a more impactful and lasting skill to impart than teaching what to decide. Helping our kids understand how to make better decisions is the first step in increasing their critical thinking and engaging their values when it comes to making choices and dealing with the consequences.
Success is an important word
How we define success is critical to your child’s sports experience.
- Yes, the final score matters, but learning and having fun are measures of success, too.
- A win-at-all-costs mentality puts unnecessary pressure on many kids and makes winning or losing more important than the incredible gains to be had from the entire sports experience.
- Measuring success by the time and money you have committed to their sport can drain their passion and enjoyment faster than just about anything else.
By using a success mindset, your child can boost their decision-making skills.
- Have them set a goal and then walk through the decisions they would need to make to reach that goal.
- Encourage them to visualize how they would feel after achieving their goal.
- Have them evaluate the short-term decisions they need to make to achieve that feeling in real life.
The S.M.A.R.T Method
For goals to really have an impact follow the SMART model:
- Specific: Goals should be specific, not vague
- Measurable: Use numbers to track achievement
- Attainable: Make sure the targets are realistic and can be broken down into smaller steps or decisions
- Realistic: Goals should be aspirational and challenging…and achievable
- Timed: Goals should have a clear duration and deadline
By assessing and setting clear short-term targets and long-term goals your child will develop smart decision making skills.
- Setting short-term targets creates structure and momentum for achieving long-term goals.
- Setting short-term targets focuses players on challenging themselves.
By encouraging them to focus on their desired outcome—and the decisions they need to make to get there—they are more likely to attain their desired success.
Practice makes perfect
Here is a practice example for learning how to use the SMART model. For younger children, you might want to choose the goal together.
Let’s say the goal is preparing their equipment for their game.
Specific: The goal is to have everything packed for games.
Measurable: All equipment is packed and put by the door one hour before you need to leave.
Attainable: Create a packing list to guarantee success.
Realistic: Make sure there are no schedule conflicts that will interfere with our child having time to complete the task.
Timed: By four weeks into the season no more reminders will be needed and this will be an established habit on game day.
The values they learn as a young athlete will remain with them for a lifetime. Encouraging the development of essential life skills like decision making should be a top priority for all parents, not just those of young athletes. By continuing to encourage your child to evaluate their decisions, and take ownership over their actions, they can be proud of the paths they choose. And you can be proud, too.
Learn more: inCourage delivers research-based solutions for improving the culture of youth sports.
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