Winning the MOMENT

Winning the Moment - Dr. Samantha O’Connell,

Going through a season filled with losses can be tough on kids, and challenging for coaches and parents.

But having the right types of conversations, and the appropriate focus, can still result in a productive and positive experience.

We spoke with Dr. Samantha O’Connell, a youth sports psychologist for the Integrated Center for Child Development in Massachusetts, on how coaches and parents can help boost team morale during a  season in which many of the games are resulting in losses. Check out what she had to say:

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are common mistakes coaches make when dealing with a team that is losing a lot?

O’CONNELL: Sometimes coaches and parents react with the parts of themselves that are not as helpful to other people. Frustrations, anger and disappointment – these are all feelings that can hinder a young athlete’s growth as a player and a person. Believing in a player’s ability to do better is important. Coaches should try to un-blend the disappointments and insecurities they may have and find some sense of self and figure out a better way to communicate that underlying belief in a player and a team. Let your players know that you believe in their ability to do better and work harder, and really speak from that voice.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: When a youth team is losing most of its games, what should the coach’s message be to the team?

O’CONNELL: One of the first things we can do is make a shift toward what we can do to make the season a win. We have to realize there is no way to control the outcome. So help athletes focus on what can be done right now, in this moment, and shift the focus from winning the season and the game to winning this moment. Help players re-focus and ask, “What can be our win this game, and the rest of this season?” Working on specific ways to improve and setting realistic goals can make a losing season a big win for every athlete on the team.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are some tips that coaches can use to keep morale high?

O’CONNELL: Looking deep down inside and helping young athletes foster what it’s like to have morale on a diverse team is the key to overcoming losing. Coaches and parents should keep in mind that these athletes are young and think about the world at large and how important it can be for young people to fit in with other humans, having a shared goal no matter what your background is. Again, figuring out what our win is going to be, and what activities and goals can we set to achieve that? One thing I recommend is taking a practice and working together in groups to figure out small, specific, measurable goals we can support each other around and track them. For example, if little Jessie wants to gain five pounds of muscle, he is going to increase his calories each day. So, knowing what little Jessie’s goal is, we are going to put it up on a board and track it. Tracking can be really fun, and whenever someone hits their milestone, we support each other with small rewards, like a team party. Supporting one another and understanding what each other’s goals are is very important.

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