By Dr Alan Goldberg - Sports Performance Consultant
So what should you do when your child suddenly falls into a slump or hits one of those ALL TOO COMMON performance plateaus? First off, DON'T HIT THE PANIC BUTTON! Slumps, blocks and plateaus are a normal part of an athlete's experience. That's N O R M A L!!! They don't necessarily mean that there's something dreadfully wrong. In fact, how you as the parent respond to your child-athlete's performance problems can have a significant impact on how quickly they will move through them.
The most important thing for you to do when your child starts to struggle is to stay calm and relaxed. Let your child see that you are not at all troubled by their temporary difficulties, because, in most cases, the problem will be temporary. By staying calm and relaxed you communicate this to your child and thus, help him or her not make too big a deal out of their struggles.
Part of your job here is to also help your son or daughter keep a long term perspective about their growth and development within the sport. When you look at the bigger picture, you will always see these kinds of performance bumps in the road. I know an Olympic gold medalist who hit a two year performance plateau as an early teenager. He didn't drop any significant time for TWO YEARS!!!! Did he feel discouraged during this time? Absolutely! Did he entertain thoughts of quitting? Actually, a few times. The point here is that the low times are part of the process. Getting through these tough times is what it takes to ultimately be successful. During these struggles, it’s your job to encourage your child to keep on keeping on. Help them understand that hard work and perseverance will eventually pay off.
Also, be sure that you stay positive with your child and don't let his/her feelings of discouragement or negativity color your attitude as the parent. If your son or daughter has a bad game or two and is predictably miserable, don’t you spend the rest of the afternoon and evening sharing their experience! If you allow yourself to get that over-identified with your child, then you have lost your ability to be helpful to him/her. Maintain a positive attitude and stay away from negativity. This means that the very last thing that you want to do with your child is try to be “helpful” by pointing out all of the things that they are doing wrong and that need to be corrected. This kind of response to your child’s struggles will blow up in your face, demoralize your child and keep him/her stuck even longer.
Finally, be supportive and be empathetic. Your kids need you that much more when they struggle. Plateaus and slumps will eventually pass. If they linger and persist, then there is something else going on that needs to be addressed. That’s when it’s time to consult a Sports Performance Consultant like myself.