Lessons from a Sports Psychologist

I recently listened in on a clinic given by a sports psychologist to a group of young gymnasts. Among her many tricks was a relay race. After splitting the group into two teams, she timed them as they crawled like crabs, bears, and other creatures across the floor and back. It was an exciting contest. But, I soon realized, the contest wasn't the point. It's what she did next that mattered.

After she told each team their elapsed time, she asked a question: how do you think you'll do the second time? It was interesting to hear them work things out with their respective teams; they're so much smarter than we given them credit for. In this instance, however, their brains failed them.

Both teams set unrealistic goals, which is to be expected. After the second race finished, neither team was anywhere near its target. But our crafty psychologist wasn't through. To complete the lesson, she asked them to set one last goal. This time, with the benefit of experience, each group chose a reasonable target, while still challenging. They learned their lesson and achieved the goals.

Unrealistic expectations plague the would-be achiever. By setting a target that isn't possible, they set themselves up for failure. You can do something today to help your kids avoid this mistake.

Set up a challenge at home. Time the first run, ask for a goal, and then time the second run. Afterwards, explain the idea of reasonable expectations, using the challenge to help clarify your point. Then ask for a third goal and watch the wheels begin to turn and the lesson sink in.

In just a few minutes you can pass on a lesson of improvement they'll use for years to come.



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