In the last post we covered how people can gain confidence by pushing the envelope of what is comfortable and what is a little out of the comfort box. Doing this frequently allows us to see things that would normally throw us into a fit of panic as only moderately stressful, and things that were stressful before are now simply acceptable.
That exposure to things outside our comfortable little world is a Macro plan. It’s a big idea, it’s something that we do that effects everything we do, everything we are and everything we think. It’s easy to sit back and say “I can do that pretty easily” but in fact the practice is effectively pushing, in small ways, everything we do. That’s not so easy. It’s a very large undertaking and requires a complete paradigm shift, a new way to see stress: as an acceptable challenge.
But there are other tactics coaches and parents can take to instill more confidence in our kids and athletes.
1: Allow children to intelligently and safely define their comfort box and it’s boundaries.
Explain to your children how and why things are done the way they are. This allows them to accept or deny the challenge. If I explain to a gymnast that the upcoming meet will require skills on the high beam, and the calendar allows this week to be on a floor height beam if next week goes to a medium height and up again the following week. If I explain that the skills and drills they’ve been doing apply to the new skill, and I give them the choice to decide in which level they will train today. They can evaluate the supporting reasons and make an appropriate decision.
It’s important to allow them in on some of the decision making because kids want to feel, a least a little, in control of their outcomes. When the progressions turn out to lead to success they are reinforced at making good choices and creating the successful outcome. This reinforces their confidence, not only in themselves but in the coach and the coaching process.
- Skinned knees are Okay
If, in the above scenario, the athlete decides to take an easier path, one that doesn’t step outside the comfort box too far; you have to be accepting of their error. When the athlete, or anyone, experiences failure based on their own decisions it still reinforces the process and even fortifies the other un-chosen options that were available to the athlete. When they are not ready for the competition on the high beam, they (in conjunction with you, the coach) should reconsider the plan they made. Make amendments. And try again. At Gymfinity we have a saying; “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” Failure can be a powerful teacher. Note: it’s imperative that we, when processing the re-evaluation of the plan, do not take away their power to make a new plan. We can offer advice, or personal anecdotes of when we faced similar issues, but we should not make the plan for them.
- Reading is fundamental
You have to know what it looks like when your kids are pushing the envelope to a little discomfort and stretching the acceptable levels of stress. You also have to know the symptoms of when your kids are over their head.
Every kid is different. Some will be enjoying the thrill of pushing boundaries, others will appear nervous and tenuous. Just like watching people return from a rollercoaster ride; some are smiling and excited, some are tearful and look like they are done for the day.
In any case, you as the coach or parent, need to be sure the child knows that they are allowed to experience the exhilaration of being out of the box, but that you are there for when they are done playing. They should feel that they are free of judgement and criticism, until they feel more competent. In addition, for the times when they are over their heads, they should still be aware that you are there as their safe harbor.
- Everything is a work in progress
Experiences should be created for every child to dabble outside their own comfort area. Occasionally throwing in a challenge keeps kids forward focused. It also allows them to check their progress on their own confidence. If, in the beam scenario above, I explain to the child that next week we will be on the medium beam for the new skill, then I unexpectedly put a stack of mats under a high beam to create an equal in height to a medium beam, I can challenge the gymnast to up the discomfort while still being within the plans of gradual growth. She may balk or she may accept the challenge. Balking means that she is still pretty firmly placed in her discomfort zone. Whereas trying the challenge means she is ready to progress.
- They’re looking at us
Our kids are always looking at us to see how a “real adult” handles the things they encounter in their day. We can actually allow the kids to hear us self-talk as we evaluate potential outcomes, the possibility of success or failure, repercussions of each, and the development of a plan of action. Again, what we show kids is what they learn.
In addition, we need to reinforce their efforts regardless of outcomes. A “nice try” or “good effort” goes a long way. I find myself frequently saying (following a failed attempt) “I see what you were trying to do, and I like that”.
Having a good plan and knowing things you can do to help a child is only part of the process. You will also need to know how to process the results of trips to the discomfort zone, and do so consistently. Questions I usually ask are: What did you learn? And what would have made that easier? Come up with questions that you can use to help them talk about and own their new found confidence.
Coaching, like parenting, is a paradox of urging children to dare risky things and the fear that they may not be successful. We also have to encourage risk while simultaneously being afraid that they may be totally safe. It’s often a fine line to balance upon.
I have stepped over my kids before to tell them what to do, I have pushed my agenda for growth without consulting the athlete, and I have also done it right several times as well. This is all very natural. Just like our kids we have failures too, and hopefully we learn from them. Yet if we do it right, we can develop confidence in our kids so they will be able to attempt and fail, many times if needed.
We will develop kids who can confidently make decisions about how to proceed in skill development, performance, maintenance, and growth.
Our kids will be powerful in mental, emotional and cognitive strength as well as being physically strong.
And best of all, our kids will not feel shame in failure because they will know that it is a means to an end. In so doing, they will never be afraid to try.