GUEST COLUMNIST: The Essential Value of Positive Self-Esteem in Sports

Editor’s note: As you might imagine, I receive a great deal of email from readers and sports parents from all over. And occasionally, I read something that is so spot on this topic that I feel compelled to post it and share it. Rick Wolff

For the Love of Kids

by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life.  I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”, an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child’s growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behavior, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over-   emphasized. The application of principled behaviors supported by empathetic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasized in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching” by  negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey – behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved.  Negative comments and criticisms children experience – not only in sports, but in their lifetime – can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players’ poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book’s central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden.  He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as “a coach of love” who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players. Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden’s teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history — an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word “win” in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one’s ability to play at one’s best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one’s desire to play his\her best. Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players’ challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated.  Obviously, Wooden’s record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the “play” and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, “Magical Child”: “through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds … play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold.”

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”. Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website: http://lofeexpublishing.blogspot.ca/

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