So often in sports, we focus on focus.
We teach our kids that in order to succeed they need to center all their attention on the drills, skills, and techniques that make them good at a particular sport.
We recognize that the ability to truly concentrate does in fact set great athletes apart from those who stay mediocre.
As a result, parents may go to great lengths to take all distractions out of the picture and spend a lot of their own energy focused on the athletic aspect of a child’s life.
Unfortunately, this is not always the best message to send to our kids.
When an athlete becomes so engrossed with their sport – to the point that it becomes the only source of their identity – self-image can be gravely impacted.
Finding the Right Balance
There is a very fine line between the diligence required to get good at a sport and an obsession that can seem to take over in your young athlete’s life.
In fact, it is important to note the distinctions between diligence and obsession.
Both of them require a willingness to sacrifice some of these things in the pursuit of getting better:
However, in the case of obsession the athlete – and sometimes parents – may forfeit other critical elements to a balanced life, such as:
- Irreplaceable moments
Although it is completely natural for a young athlete to say, “I love being a swimmer” or “I can’t imagine not playing tennis” it becomes a problem when it is the only identity that they ascribe to.
It can be easy for a child to connect their self-image to WHAT they do and HOW WELL they do it.
Eventually, it becomes in their mind WHO they are. It could take years to see an imbalance like this in a child’s self-image.
However, a quick identity crisis can occur if an injury prevents them from playing or burnout occurs and they find themselves scrambling to make sense of life.
A Healthy Conversation That Can Help
It is a parent’s job to make sure that a child is giving appropriate attention to their various life accounts. This is something that can be actually learned and developed as kids grow.
First and foremost, the example that you set in your own life lends credibility to any conversations you might have with your athlete in regards to balance.
If you tend to neglect major areas of your own life, it is highly likely that your kids will fall into similar patterns.
Realize that “correcting” imbalances is a process that takes patience and time. It will not happen overnight.
A good place to start – if you are not even sure of how your young athlete is doing in this area – is a simple exercise that can be done with children as young as 8 or 9.
The instructions are straightforward and can be kept as uncomplicated as: take a piece of paper, draw a circle, and have your child draw pictures of things that are important to them. The more value it has, the bigger it should be drawn.
Here is an example of how your child’s circle might look:
This exercise will give you the opportunity to have a conversation about areas that you either noticed are lopsided or became aware of through their pictures.
Brainstorm together for ideas on how to:
- Give more attention to life accounts that may be neglected.
- Limit time spent on things that are getting an unhealthy amount of attention.
- Add new focuses that might help to bring about a healthier approach.
This should be viewed as an exercise in discovery for both of you.
Try not to allow it to become a stressful or negative experience.
Whether it is in sports, a relationship, a job, or a hobby, an imbalanced focus can ultimately cause problems for a healthy self-image.
Have an ongoing conversation with your young athletes about their various life accounts.
Teach them that it is in their best interest to be purposeful about striving toward a balanced focus on the many things that matter most in their life.