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Positive Feedback in Sports
Q: Our six-year-old is an excellent T-ball player. Our son likes to replay and talk about his accomplishments in the game. After the games, he says, "Man, did you see how far I hit that home run?" or, "I made four outs against that team." We are trying to get him to focus on team performance, skill development, and sportsmanship. How can we keep our son grounded when he gets overly excited about his performance, while still providing the positive feedback he needs?
A: At this age, your son is very "full of himself." Right now, there aren't many life experiences as dramatically exciting for him as hitting home runs in a T-ball game, especially with his parents present. I think that you can find the right balance of responding with excitement at his baseball successes and "grounding" him in seeing the game as more than a showcase for his talents.
I would not tell him to stop being excited about his performance, or stop showing your own excitement at his successes. I would, however, not treat every home run he hits or every catch he makes as if it was the game-winning hit or catch in the last game of the World Series. If you always remember to focus on his efforts rather than his big achievements, then you send him a message that you appreciate his efforts and the fact that he's having a good time more than you value his home runs. If you communicate to him that you are excited or pleased with him only when he "succeeds" in a big way, then he'll doubt himself if he doesn't always acheive the same level of performance.
In talking about the game with him afterwards, I would make a point of commenting upon his developing skills ("Boy, you're definitely running faster around the bases these days." "You're really looking right at the ball when it hits the bat.") while still noting his pleasure about his home runs, etc. I'd also make it a regular after-game ritual to ask him to comment upon which teammates did a good job (as well as opposing players), who was improving, and who was a supportive teammate. I would always reinforce your appreciation of his sportsmanship and support of his teammates.
You can model this type of thought process and behavior in your everyday lives by making sure that you focus on peoples' efforts and not just their "home runs." Your boy will grow up knowing that you'll always offer him encouraging words, appreciating his efforts and his enthusiasm for whatever he attempts. He'll know that whether he strikes out with three runners on base, or whether he hits a grand slam to win the game, that you will honor who he is.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.