Mental Health

How to Help Your Child Process Disappointments in Youth Sports

A young boy about to kick a soccer ball.

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Participating in sports offers a host of benefits for kids’ whole health, including physical activity, socialization, a boost to their self-confidence, positive values and many more. But there can be drawbacks when outcomes aren’t as your child hoped — like the pain that comes with not making the team and the frustration of losing a game.

Tina Gurnani, MD, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at AdventHealth for Children, explains some helpful strategies to support your child manage the full spectrum of emotions that come with participating in youth sports — including negative feelings that may arise from disappointments.

Read on to learn how with support and time, your child can learn to turn the negatives into positives, and the setbacks into valuable teaching moments.

Separate Your Value From the Event

When outcomes are not as we wanted or expected, it’s easy to fall into the old trap of thinking negative thoughts like, “I’m a failure” and “I’m not good enough.”

Dr. Gurnani says, “It’s important to teach your child how to separate themselves from the event that upset them. Whether or not they made the team, won or lost, or how they performed on a given day doesn’t indicate their intrinsic value as the amazing kid they were created to be.”

Tips to help your child separate themselves and the value of who they are include:

  • Empathize first, showing your child you care and support them
  • Reinforce the core reasons why they play their sport (love for the game, their team, having fun, learning a skill)
  • Remind them things don’t always go as planned
  • Show them that you are calm, not upset and detached from the outcome
  • Tell them there’s always next time (to make the team, win the game or do better)

Learning Experiences and Teaching Moments

There are nuggets of wisdom and life lessons to be found in any situation. If your child is disappointed about an outcome, remind them of important lessons they can carry with them through life, such as there is always room for improvement, the value of not quitting, and the importance of good sportsmanship and team spirit.

“When children learn how to process the negative emotions caused by disappointing outcomes, they build coping skills and become more resilient. They’ll be better equipped to recover from setbacks, solve problems and figure out how to work through difficult feelings. Disappointment can be a valuable teaching tool when it comes to emotional development,” shares Dr. Gurnani.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help

Cognitive distortions, such as not feeling up to par and negative self-image and self-talk, are very common. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, addresses faulty thinking and behavior patterns and teaches methods to help, like replacing a negative thought with a positive one every time your child notices damaging self-talk. It’s also a useful type of therapy for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

“In CBT, your child will learn to recognize harmful thoughts and behaviors and how to better cope with life’s ups and downs, as well as techniques to help keep them calm in body, mind and spirit,” explains Dr. Gurnani.

A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, who specializes in helping children can support your child on their journey to wholeness.

Whole-Person Health Care for Your Child's Body, Mind and Spirit

Mental health treatment is a positive step that can give your children the lift they need, treat illness and help them balance their busy lives. Our pediatric mental health specialists are here to support your child in body, mind and spirit.

To learn more or get connected, visit BeAMindleader.com.

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