Often, we define success based on outcomes. Success tends to mean scoring points or goals. Getting a hit. Winning the game. When we talk to young athletes about their competitions based on this framework, questions tend to sound like this: Did your team win? Did you get any hits? How many points did you score?
But is this the best way to frame competition for young athletes?
Not only is it not the best way, but it may also be the worst. Professional and highly competitive athletes tend to list outcome-oriented thinking as a major cause of disruptive cognition, interfering with optimal performance. Getting stuck in thoughts about outcomes while performing prevents elite athletes from achieving their best. High-level athletes want to be in a state where they are not doing much thinking. Their focus should be on what they can control and their process. Some simple and short motivating self-talk phrases may be useful, such as “you got this” or “eye on the ball.” Cognition relation to outcome, and orienting success based on outcomes, will only interfere with an athlete’s process. Of course, as athletes get older and competition becomes more serious, the outcome is important. It becomes critical to acknowledge the reality of outcome success. But that reality must be put in context with developmental goals and teaching process, especially for preadolescent and adolescent athletes. If you, as the caring adult or coach of young athletes, make process and development more important than outcome your players will too.
Let’s change the way we talk to our young athletes. If you’re a parent or family member, don’t ask about outcomes – ask about the process. Ask about development. What are you working on out there? Did you improve from last game? Did you have fun? Mindful conversations from the surrounding core (family, friends, coaches) of young athletes have a major impact on the way they see themselves and see the game.