Having grown up in sport from a very young age, I now find myself taking great pleasure in watching and coaching a lot of children and youth’s football.
One thing that I’ve noticed in particular is that kids are still suffering from confidence related issues and it’s becoming a real stigma at the moment. Speaking to Chris only a few days ago, we were sat debating about the differences between our own sporting upbringings and what we both felt the children/ youth faced emotionally in the sporting world of today. We reflected upon our own memories as kids as we were sat bolted to benches in changing rooms up and down the country after a bad performance. Remembering those ones you had nightmares over trying to avoid making eye contact with the manager until he told the group to get out of his sight. We also reminisced about the coaches we loved working with and the things they did differently to the damaging types that made you think about quitting altogether.
One of the main factors in whether or not you stick with a sport at a young age can come down to the person in charge. If you distrust the environment you are in, you will always find a reason not to go back to it. You might love taking part in the sport itself but I believe that if any sportsperson has said they’ve never had a moment of self doubt at an early age due to confidence related issues they’d be lying. This is where the adult/coach is crucial and has a real duty in developing not only the technical abilities of the child but also in making sure the child feels safe in their surroundings and allowing for progressive development.
Performance in sport can diminish very quickly at any age and at any level so for me its extremely important as an adult to try and help build a positive mental attitude within a child’s sporting education. Youngsters have to make mistakes in order to learn and they certainly don’t need crucified for every wrong move or turn they make. Looking back there were a lot of subconscious obstacles in my own path which meant I was constantly questioning myself.
Coming from a remote town in the middle of nowhere and suddenly being flung into a more foreign environment with no friends or safety net was probably really daunting for a 9 year old boy. Self confidence at that point was the only friend you could really rely on to help ease your way in. Ability is naturally what you are judged on however, if you are mentally not right it doesn’t matter who you are and what you are capable of, you will struggle to perform to your highest possible level. These things are sometimes overlooked by coaches and even parents. Something as simple as being welcomed into a changing room with a smile can help your whole mindset. As I look back at some of the rants from former coaches I think to myself that some of those guys definitely wouldn’t manage to get away with that kind of stuff now. You sometimes had to perform out of fear.
Growing up I always knew I was small for my age but I couldn’t physically change that. A lot of coaches would continually ask when I was going to stretch. Now that seems jovial but even if I saw them today I’d give them the same response; I’m still waiting. Although just a throw away comment, your mind starts to overpower everything else. You are constantly battling the worry that you might not be good enough. Everything has moved on nowadays from the way you coach to the way you pass on information and even in the techniques to try and get more out of an individual. The days of the “hairdryer” have almost completely gone. I’m not sure if its for better or worse but there’s not much room in sport for the old school mentality.
That said there are always people finding ways to create negative environments. I always tried to take a little bit of something out of everything. Every negative that bounced my way was fuelled to try and help create a positive. I did have coaches growing up that I just couldn’t work out however. One in particular I just physically and mentally struggled to progress under. Every day was a drain and it became sharply apparent that I was wasting the most crucial moments of my education with him. From being hooked off the park to being left out of the team altogether even after receiving acclaim from higher up in the club due to my performance.
These are probably the stories that not many people talk about. It’s the hard luck tales or the ones that most shy away from telling probably down to the fact that in their minds, they felt as though they just weren’t cutting the mustard. For me, I didn’t want to train, I’d try and make excuses. The love I had for the game became strained. I had someone standing over me constantly telling me that I was doing things wrong but not exactly offering a way to get it right. On the outside no one would have noticed but on the inside I began to struggle. I had lost my confidence on and off the park. At that stage I found myself in a fight or flight mode. Without all those coaches who had passed on positive information and who had prepared my character for what I was going through, I probably would’ve thrown in the towel and decided upon going down another road. A lot of promising kids do it.
Now, there are many reasons why some give up and not all revolve around the coach. However there’s an alarming rate of mental health issues attached to sports people who never quite fulfilled their promise. Their pressures and stresses are always silent. After dedicating so much of your childhood to the discipline and then finding yourself falling a little short which in effect means all the way to the bottom in your own world, it’s a tough moment for even the strongest of characters. I think for a lot of kids growing up and being told they are no longer good enough it can mentally sink their personality. There’s a fine balance though and there has to be an understanding that if it doesn’t quite work out on the back of one persons opinion it doesn’t mean to say that the bubble has to burst fully. Self belief is honestly one of the greatest tools to have within sport. Good news in what can be a difficult and at times cut throat industry isn’t always guaranteed so having a strong mentality no matter the outcome will always give you a fighting chance to succeed.
Kids need to understand that when they are chasing their dream they should always feel at ease in being able to chat about the good bad and indifferent proportions of their journey and therefor reminded that it’s ok to make mistakes along the way.