Today's Q & A question comes from @leosilvy29
"Players moving up from in house hockey to more competitive travel hockey teams for the first time. How do you mentally prepare them? Typically we see kids "take a back seat" to older team members and take time to come into their own. Often due to the "I'm younger" or "they're better" mental blocks. When moving up."
Thanks for your question and I love that you're thinking about the mental blocks.
So let's take a look at those first.
"I'm Younger (than them)"
You have a team of players, some older than others and that is the fact. The team consists of players of different ages. If for example, we are talking U10, then the children's ages will range from 8 to 10, right?
Fact is the children aged 9 could have played longer than those who are only 8 and those who are 10 could have played longer than those either 8 or 9.
The 8 years olds ARE the youngest. That's reality.
Does that have anything at all to do with skill or ability? No. And they are still never going to be as old as the oldest child on their team.
Helping your child understand this will help. It's not easy but the more we help our child understand that the more they compare themselves, the more scared or unhappy they will be.
And that sometimes the fact is they are going to be the youngest and there is nothing that will change that.
Just because they are the youngest doesn't mean they can't play better. If they practice and their skills are they best they can be, there may be things they can do better than any older child, and some things they can't.
"They're better (than me)"
A child will feel this way when they are looking at the other kids and comparing themselves.
What they are also doing is focusing on something that happened that they can't now change.
One simple way to help them understand that doing this isn't helpful for them is this:
Ask them for an example of where the other player is better than them.
Get them to tell you about three specific times that they think the other children are better than them.
Chris was at training and he shot three pucks and put them all in the net.
David beat me down the rink when I was defending against him.
Sam won the face-off against me.
These are three genuine examples of where someone was better than them, the player he/she was playing or practising against.
Okay, and all of these are what happened.
Chris shot the puck three times and put it in the net.
David was faster skating down the rink.
Sam won the face-off.
So, in truth, in each of those situations, the other player was better, at that moment than your son/daughter.
The thing to do here is to help your child see that, in those situations they described, the other child did something they couldn't do at that moment. And that's okay.
Talk to them about practising their shots on net, skating speed, and face-offs. The other children, the ones that are older have more than likely had more practice than your younger child.
Does it mean they are 'better' than your child? No. That's not true.
What is true is that the other child (the older one) might be better at some things and not as good at others, just like your child.
And as the other child is older and has played hockey for longer, then they will likely have practised more, so if your child wants to be different next time they meet, then he could practice those things and see what happens.
Remember we are trying to avoid having a conversation that only talks about winning or beating the other child.
We want them to see that it is THEIR abilities and mental attitude that matters.
Comparing Creates Stress
The trick in helping your child prepare mentally is to teach them to not compare. Easier said than done, sometimes, because it is so ingrained in us.
Comparing begins from birth as soon as we see our siblings. We automatically see ourselves as better or not as good as them, and so the journey starts.
Working with our child on their focus on what THEY are doing is what helps. When I'm worried about what someone else is doing I can't possibly be focusing on what I'm doing 100%.
So the trick is to talk to them about how they feel about each of their own skill levels. Remind them that they have made the team because of what they can do, on the ice.
Taking a Back Seat May Be the Perfect Learning Experience
I personally love the back seat. I see so much more from there.
Maybe there is an opportunity to talk to your child about watching and noticing what the other, older kids are doing.
Talk to them about what they notice. Do they notice that Jason isn't as good at the slap shot because he doesn't flex his stick enough, for example?
Being an observer can let you see things from a very different perspective.
As a parent, it will help if you don't have expectations about them being in the forefront straight away either.
If you read my last Q & A post I talked about what it takes for a child to fit into a new group. You might find reading that post useful too.
If the only thing your child learns to do is to stop comparing themselves with their team mates and focus on their own game, life in the team and hockey world, in general, will be a whole lot easier.
Please let me know if you find this useful.
Karen Cherrett is a Sports Mindset Coach who specializes in coaching hockey players. Karen coaches players to be more focused and play with ease, not stress. And their parents to support their child in the best possible way. Life playing hockey should be fun. Mindset matters. Mental health matters. Hockey should be fun, not emotionally overloading.