When Your Child Stops Trying to Master a Skill, What Can You Do?

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When Your Child Stops Trying to Master a Skill, What Can You Do?

We’ve all stood there as a parent watching our child practice their drills. They try and try and try to master the skill. It may be days, weeks or just hours that they practice and at one point you notice their head and shoulders drop and they give up. Why?

Carol Dweck comments

“when some children worked on tasks and failed, it made them stop believing in their abilities – and so they stopped trying”

They THINK they’ve failed

Notice that she talks about failing. Crazy really because where on earth did they get the notion that they failed?  Their mind is setting expectations for themselves.  This may be based on what their coach says, what their friends are doing, what they bigger brother or sister can do, or what you’ve said to them.

Any sort of comment or conversation could have triggered their belief that they have to have mastered, whatever they are doing, by a certain time or to a certain level.

This is one of those crazy things that happens or could happen even if nothing has been said to them. Their thinking is all based on what THEY are thinking. How they THINK they should be.

Then they stop believing in their abilities

Notice Dweck says that when they think they’ve failed they stop believing in their own abilities. Basically they tell themselves “I’m no good at this” and believe it is something they will NEVER master.

And I emphasized the word never because there is a finality in their mindset at this time. They believe that it is not possible for them to ever be any different; to ever learn what they are not getting (in relation to the skill).

It is like a self-defeating prophecy really, because when they believe they’ve failed, their ability to be open to learning how to master the skill completely disappears, so of course they don’t think they have the ability to learn to do it successfully.

If I can’t do it, why even try?

And as you can already see, this is where the “Why even try!” loop begins.

If you’ve ever been in this space yourself, and I’m sure most of us have, you know it is not an easy space to get out of. You feel down, sad and in a way sorry for yourself. You don’t want to even pick up the stick again. You don’t want to practice.

All you see is defeat.

And sure, for a young child this period may be shorter lived than for older ones, and yet it still happens. For the children who continue to believe they can’t do it and therefore it’s not worth trying, they are the ones that give up playing hockey all together. Even though they might be so passionate about hockey they eat sleep and breathe it, it only takes one strong moment of this doubt about trying, to have them give it all up.

To turn away and try something else. Their heart won’t be in it. Of course, it won’t because hockey is what they love. But to them walking away is easier than the story they have running of their failure.

The conversations to have with your child if this happens

If you notice your child has given up on a particular skill, or walked away from that aspect of hockey all together it would be valuable to have one or more conversations with them.

The first conversation would go along the lines of “I notice you aren’t working on… [your goal shooting] anymore. What happened?”

Let them explain in their own words what has gone on for them. You may hear them say they think they can’t do it, or how they are believing they have failed.

Understand where the ‘expectation’ piece came from

If their explanation relates to an expectation, they have set for themselves, gently help them to see that perhaps the expectation was unrealistic. Talk about where they got the idea for that expectation. Here you will hear about their older brother, or team mate etc.

Explain that it takes a lot of practice to be good at something

Then you may hear them talk about how they don’t think they will ever be able to master this skill. Time to talk about how it can take up to 10,000 times for someone to be really good at something. That sounds like a long time to a young child and yet it may help them to understand that spending two hours doing something isn’t anywhere near enough time to say they have failed at it.

Find a way to support them trying something different

And of course the last part of this chat is to talk to them about what they might do differently. Go out and watch them and share some pointers or tips with them.  Ask their coach for assistance or advice on how to approach that particular aspect of their game.

Get them to watch videos of great NHL players who do that thing they want to do, well. Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche in an interview as the Calder Memorial Trophy winner for Rookie of the Year in 2020 said he is always watching other players to see if he can learn something from them.

There is nothing worse, as a parent, than watching your child who is so passionate and excited about something, drop into a space of not even trying.

Get them back out there and having fun by turning around their thinking patterns. It will surely make a difference.

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. Mental health matters. Hockey should be fun, not emotionally overloading. #MindsetMatters