This past week, I had an opportunity to share some sport psychology ideas with a camp of strong, young girl hockey players. I began the discussion as I often do with adolescent athletes, “What does your head have to do with playing hockey?” The answers began as usual – “It helps me make decisions,” “My head is at work when I get mad, ” “It helps me see the ice,”…. and then out of the mouth of a 13 year old athlete, “My head helps me not get distracted by what parents are saying and doing during games.”
Wow! I was not surprised in the content of this answer, I was surprised by it for three other reasons: 1. That it was stated out loud in the midst of 40 other athletes, 2. that is was so well articulated by an adolescent athlete, and 3. that parents were seen as such a significant distraction that the development mental toughness skills were needed to block them out. Perhaps “surprise” is not the right word for the emotion felt when hearing a young athlete say this, but rather “sadness” is more accurate. There are plenty of challenges for a young athlete – opponents, skills to learn, desire to win, the social stuff of adolescence… Is it really necessary for adults to create another?
I empathize with parents. I am one. I hope someone will cut me a little slack when I prove to be a bit over-protective of my daughter. This being said, if I distract her from play… I do know I am robbing her of something special.
I hope kids keep speaking up. I also hope adults can manage to support, protect athletes from injury, and stay out of the way. Mental toughness for amateur athletes is for optimizing learning during and managing the stresses of practices and competition, not for blocking out the activity in the stands.