When it comes to improving performance. building self-esteem, good sportsmanship, and camaraderie, one of the most important aspects of sports psychology is positive self-talk. Research suggests that positive self-talk is associated with better performance. In fact, the Australian Sports Commission has carried out research that demonstrates the detrimental impact negative self-talk has on performance and having a positive attitude when it comes to athletic endeavours improves performance.
Young people, in particular, can benefit from learning more about positive self-talk. Improvements in their inner dialogue can improve both their attitude and performance and can have a positive influence on their interactions outside the sporting sphere. Quirky Kid has developed a program designed at young people aged 10 to 16, called Power Up.
A common presentation for our young athletes is an inner dialogue that is dominated with doubt and negativity. Common expressions we hear from our young athletes are
“I’ll never be able to do it!”, “I am no good at it,” “there is no point trying.”
This type of negative self-talk can prevent a young athlete from performing well and create a negative cycle of poor self-esteem and poor performance. If a child feels they can’t be successful at a task, they often accept, and even expect failure. Negativity can turn a child’s insecurities into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The good news is that positive self-talk is a skill that children can learn and utilise with practice. By using positive self-talk, young athletes can build the confidence they require to accept new challenges, maintain a healthy self-esteem, and build on new skills, even when the task is personally challenging. The first task in helping children challenge and change their self-talk is to support them in recognising negative self-talk patterns and identifying unhelpful language such as “can’t” or “never” in their internal dialogue. Some children put themselves down by referring to themselves as “stupid” or by using other put-downs. Once a child has identified negative self-talk, they can be assisted in challenging and replacing those thoughts.
Like many habits, the process of replacing negative self-talk can take some time. Children need to learn to interrupt patterns of self-doubt with more realistic and helpful thinking. For example, a young soccer player who tells herself, “I’ll never score this goal,” can replace this thought with a more helpful and realistic thought such as “I’ve made the goal many times during practice and I can do it again!”. Just saying happy things is not enough, children must believe the positive thought and thus the key is to replace negative thoughts with thoughts that reflect reality and that are helpful.
One way to practise positive thinking is through practising self-talk out loud each morning in front of the mirror. Write a daily affirmation on a Post-It note and stick it on the child’s mirror so they can start each day in a positive frame of mind. Ask them to say the affirmation out loud in the morning, and to remind themselves of it whenever they’re thinking negatively throughout the day.
Interrupting and replacing negative self-talk can be a challenging task for children who suffer from low self-esteem, but with practise, young athletes can learn to accept challenging situations without putting themselves down and can and learn to feel good about both their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re interested in learning more about how sports psychology can help children develop their self-esteem and athletic skills, and be positive teammates, please contact us.
Austin, M (2016). Listening to the voices in your head: identifying and adapting athletes’ self-talk. Volume 28 Number 4 Bunker, L, Williams, JM and Zinsser, N 1993, ‘Cognitive techniques for improving performance and self-confidence’, in JM Williams (ed.), Applied sport psychology: personal growth to peak performance, Mayfield, Mountain View, CA. pages numbers?
Carlson, R 1997, Don’t sweat the small stuff, Bantam, Milson’s Point, NSW.
Carlson, R 2005, Easier than you think, HarperCollins, New York, NY.
Hardy, L, Jones, G and Gould, D 1998, Understanding psychological preparation for sport: theory and practice of elite performers, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK. pages numbers?
Imagine a child who keeps a perfectly neat desk in class, a super tidy room at home, spends afternoons ensuring their homework is meticulous and correct and who expects the very best of themselves at all times. What could possibly be awry here you ask?
Well, at the Quirky Kid Clinic, we know how important it is to foster the hopes and aspirations of children and awaken and strengthen a desire for children to strive to be their best, however, we know that for some children, this desire can become an all-encompassing, all-consuming striving for flawlessness, which can become a difficult load for children to carry (Hibbard & Walton, 2014).
Perfectionism, characterised by the setting very high, even impossible, standards for oneself and becoming self-critical if these standards are not reached, is a common feature of many of the children we see at our clinic. While it is well established that many children can manage perfectionistic characteristics adaptively to help them stay motivated, organised and on task to meet high personal standards, perfectionism can also lead to high levels of avoidance, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and exaggerated reactions to mistakes, all of which can interfere with a child’s functioning (Gnilka, Ashby & Nobel, 2012). We frequently see perfectionism getting in the way of a child participating in class, being able to complete assignments and homework, having a go at new activities and gaining pleasure from social and sporting activities.
How perfectionism in children starts?
A common question we are asked is where does children’s perfectionism come from? The research is quite mixed when talking about the developmental roots of perfectionism. It appears that a child’s early experiences play a role, such as the messages children receive and hear about success, achievement, and failure. For example, children with highly critical parents and who seem to perceive their parents as expecting them to be perfect, show a greater likelihood of showing perfectionistic traits (Hibbard & Walton, 2014). Additionally, we know the temperament of a child also plays an important role, with children who are highly sensitive and prone to anxiety, becoming more likely to express perfectionism.
Features of perfectionism in children?
One of the hallmark features of children who are perfectionistic is the distorted and rigid ways in which they tend think (Fletcher & Neumeister, 2012). Perfectionistic children commonly think they must adhere to meeting impossibly high standards (eg. “I must get 90% in my exam, I must make sure I am the best in my class”). They may also overgeneralise when they fail (“this bad mark means I’ll never do well”), display black and white thinking (“if I make an error, I will be a complete failure”) and focus on the negatives while discounting the positives (“I messed up every ball in that game, I played terribly”). These distorted thinking patterns act like filters, such that these children tend to see the world quite differently to their peers, honing in on information and experiences that confirm underlying fears that their best efforts will never be good enough and filtering out more positive experiences. This can fuel self-critical beliefs and exacerbate avoidance behaviours as children become more unsure of themselves over time.
So, how can we best support our children who appear to be setting impossibly high standards for themselves?
Take care of yourself: Setting high standards for ourselves, whether it be in our parenting, career or sporting achievements can have a multitude of benefits for children, however, be mindful of the pitfalls. Are we constantly frustrated? are we constantly comparing rather than focusing on our unique capabilities? are we avoiding things for fear of failure? Children learn greatly about developing resilience, perseverance, enjoyment of a challenge and their own strengths and weaknesses from watching us as parents set goals, shift the goal posts and cope when things don’t quite go to plan. Showing your children a ‘have a go’ attitude and the enjoyment and learning that it brings will help them navigate and cope with their own challenges in life (Greblo & Bratko, 2014).
Support High Achievers early on: It is important to support high achiever early on with the right messages, instructions and education. With this in mind, The Quirky Kid Clinic has published a unique online program calledPower Up: Using Performance Psychology to do your best. This rich and engaging online program covers key areas of performance to assist children and young people aged 10 to 16 to perform at their best. See http://powerup.quirkykid.com.au
Seek additional assistance from your school counsellor or psychologist: There can be times when perfectionism can really get in the way of your child’s ability to function at school and home. If your child is avoiding things for a fear of failure or making a mistake and is showing exaggerated reactions and changes which may signal anxiety or depression, it is recommended you seek further opinion from your school counsellor or psychologist.
Focus on coping skills: Help your child develop positive coping strategies for managing their fears and worries about achievement. Two practical strategies to help your child are breaking down goals and developing a problem solving approach (Gnilka et al., 2012). Often, children avoid tasks like homework or writing in their books, speaking out in front of classmates and playing in team sports because the task at hand appears so daunting and thus is avoided altogether. Help your child break their goals down into more achievable goals, like completing smaller amounts of homework at more regular intervals for example. Helping children problem solve is also important. We know problem solving capabilities are learnt, and, important to the development of children’s resilience-skills. Help children define the ‘problem’ they have and explore and test out possible solutions. Over time, children will be better equipped to confront problems and hurdles with greater flexibility and be better able to generate a range of possible solutions rather than feeling overwhelmed as soon as an issue is presented.
Challenge distorted and unhelpful thinking styles: One of the central factors which appears to perpetuate the anxiety and avoidance so frequently associated with perfectionistic children is the distorted and unhelpful ways in which they think. What is often frustrating for parents, teachers and coaches, is that perfectionistic children rarely have experiences in which, given attempt and effort, they fail. Helping children develop more helpful and realistic self-talk is the key. Some key questions to ask children are: what evidence do they have for their fear or negative thought being true? What is helpful about their negative thought and what is unhelpful about it? What is the worst that could happen if their feared outcome occurred and how terrible is this on a scale of life events? What could be more realistic and helpful to say to themselves? Challenging children’s cognitive distortions and replacing them with more realistic and helpful self talk is central to children understanding and knowing they are not defined by their mark or mistake and realising how unhelpful rigid patterns of thinking can be (Fletcher & Neumeister, 2012). Great activities are also covered on the Power Up Program
Set the scene: Set the language in your household and with your child’s school and interest groups, to demonstrate to your child that mistakes are ok, everyone makes them and having your best go is more important than the outcome. Where appropriate, talk openly about your own mistakes and encourage teachers and coaches to do the same. Model making mistakes and your own coping reactions in response. Discuss with your child the positives which come from making mistakes and focus on the positives of situations that were gained despite of, or in light of, a mistake. Encourage enjoyment of activities and make this a focus with your child. Set limits on things which need to be limited, such as how long your child spends on their homework, and use words of encouragement for effort.
Find a positive role model: Find a healthy role-model for your child, a person who can take an interest in your child’s hobbies and skills and who can strengthen the language of ‘effort over success’ , ‘everyone makes mistakes’ and the ‘have a go’ attitude with your child.
Foster a ‘growth mindset’: Recently, there was a very good article published in the New Scientist about how to raise successful children and core to the article was the idea that we need to foster a ‘growth mindset’ with our children. In essence, we need to move away from thinking in rigid and fixed ways about our talents, intelligence and personalities (eg. “I am no good at sport”, “I can’t change this”) to a flexible mindset focused on the possibilities of growth, benefits of effort and development through perseverance and support. For our children who are perfectionistic, this can help children move from “I can’t” or “I will never” to “I will have a go”, with this effort and attempt being praised from the sidelines to see these children not only fulfill their potential in their focus area, but also branch out to find meaning and joy in activities and pursuits which aren’t being done perfectly.
Fletcher, K. & Neumeister, K. (2012). Research on Perfectionism and Achievement Motivation: Implications for Gifted Students. Psychology in the Schools, 49 (7), 668-677.
Gnilka, P., Ashby, J. & Noble, C. (2012). Multidimensional Perfectionism and Anxiety: Differences Among Individuals With Perfectionism and Tests of a Coping-Mediation Model. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90, 427-436.
Greblo, Z. & Bratko, D. (2014). Parents’ perfectionism and its relation to child rearing behaviours. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 55 (2), 180-185.
Hibbard, D. & Walton, G. (2014). Exploring the Development of Perfectionism: The Influence of Parenting Style and Gender. Social Behavior and Personality, 42 (2), 269-278.
New Scientist (2014), March Issue. The Secret of Success by Michael Bond.
Kimberley O’Brien, the Principal Psychologist at The Quirky Kid Clinic, is honoured to be invited to participate in the event hosted by the Sydney High School Old Boy’s Union. Kimberley is the only female speaker at this event. The event will take place in The Great Hall at Sydney Boys High School and will start at 5:30 sharp. Kimberley’s topic ‘How to be a High Achiever’, will cover interesting information about boys and their day to day lives as well as what makes a high achiever and how schools can best support them. Below are the slides of the presentation:
The event is a great opportunity for students to gain valuable insights from some of the school amazing old boys, like Tony Abrahams ( CEO, Access Innovation Media), Paul Almond (Special Counsel, DibbsBarker Lawyers & owner of the The Flying Pan restaurants, Hong Kong, Jack M Bancroft (CEO, Australian Indigenous Mentoring), Dominic Grimm (World Champion Rower), Tim Morris AM APM (Assistant Commissioner, Australian Federal Police), and many others.
300 participants will experience stimulating discussions involving 6 Panels involving professionals from Legal, Sports, Arts and Business sectors.
Quirky Kid was invited to facilitate two sessions of Power Up! during the The Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) preparation camp for Rhythmic Gymnastics young athletes and their coaches. They are preparing for the sixth edition of the AYOF will be held from 16 – 20 January 2013, once again in Sydney. This will be the biggest and best AYOF to date providing an Olympic like experience for 1700 athletes from 30 nations.
The Sport Program Manager for Gymnastics Australia,Emily Rennes who commissioned the workshop, is determined to offer these young athletes with the required Performance Psychology skills required to take each one to the next level.
We were impressed with the determination and focus of each of these young athletes during the session one of the Power Up Program held at L’Elfin Gymnastics Club which is in Sutherland during the 15/16th of December.
Psychologist Belinda Jones and Quirky Kid will return, this time to State Sport Centre in Sydney Olympic Park to complete session two of the Power Up! program.
Not so long ago, we launched the Power Up program during the Football United Camp – The 2012 Challenge Camp. The Quirky Kid Team was honored to be part of this event and to share with participants our new program.
The video below shows a bit more of the event and the activities we completed.
Participants eagerly completed a range of paper-based and activity-based exercises to explore the key principals of performance psychology, like goal setting, imagery, self-talk, etc. Our team, including Psychologist Belinda Jones, Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, Social Developer Leonardo Rocker all completed multiple activities with individual groups.
Soon you will also have the opportunity to listen to inspiring stories by young people we interviewed during the event, so stay tuned!
As you may already know, Football United has recently released a research demonstrating the positive personal, social and community benefits of participating in regular training, leadership opportunities and educational opportunities with Football United. The report was presented by UNSW Chancellor, Mr. David Gonski AC. The research was undertaken by Sally Nathan, Anne Bunde-Birouste, Lynn Kemp, Clifton Evers, Julie McKenzie and Tun Shwe.