Why We Should Celebrate Achievement and Praise Effort
(By guest contributor J.P. Nerbun)
You might be that crazy sports parent who lives for the moments when you can get completely decked out in team gear and jump up and down, cheering on your son or daughter.
Or you might be the parent who sits quietly in the stands, anxiously watching every play, unable to speak, with your heart racing.
Either way, it is unnatural and unrealistic to expect you not to care or get excited about your child competing in sports. Your rush of excitement and pride when your child scores their first goal or their 100thcareer goal is a natural feeling. Still, how and what you communicate in these moments is critical to their development as athletes and people, and their ability to find joy in the experience.
My 1stMistake as a Sports Parent
So, I have to come clean.
My 26-month-old daughter recently started Soccer Shots, a soccer program for really young children. Does a child that young really need to be going to soccer?! Well, my wife and I definitely questioned our decision to enroll her in the program. We are paying a happy, smiling college kid over $100 for 8 weeks to hopelessly try to teach a group of toddlers to play soccer.
My daughter spent the first week alternating between picking up the instructor’s cones and picking her nose. However—despite the still-freezing temperatures this April in Pennsylvania—she seems to be having fun and it’s healthy for the kids. Right?
Well I was feeling pretty good about our decision, until I became aware that I am already starting to develop some harmful parenting behaviors! See, I caught myself telling some friends with great pride that my daughter was such a “quick” learner and a naturalat dribbling the soccer ball. Just a proud father, right?
What’s the problem with this, you might ask? It is only natural and goodto take pridein our children’s ability and achievement.
Well… not really.
Praising Ability vs Praising Effort
So, you might be aware of the extensive research around the growth mindset that shows how critical it is that we are intentional in the way we praise people—specifically, children. If you haven’t read Mindsetby Carol Dweck or read anything about her findings, check out this four-minute video.
Dweck’s research revealed that when children were praised on their intelligence, 62% of them avoided future challenges, but when they were praised for their effort, 92% were more willing to seek out challenges. If you know anything about the learning and growth process, you know that it is through our challenges, failures, and mistakes that we learn and grow. We do not learn or grow by running from challenges.
Developing hard workers and learners isn’t the only reason we should want to foster a growth mindset in our children. Another HUGE reason is that those with a fixed mindset find their value in their performance, not in who they are as people. And I can tell you one thing for sure: I do NOT want my children to ever feel like they have to achieve anything (especially in the realm of sports) to earn my love.
Still, Dweck’s findings can be challenging, because it goes against what is often natural for us think and feel. While we claim to value hard work, the truth is that we want to believe our child is a natural, and that it comes easily to them.
Researchers call it the “naturalness bias”—a preference or bias for the people whom we believe are “naturals.” We preach and claim that we just want them to play their hardest and have fun (no matter what’s on the scoreboard), but research shows we actually get an emotional high from seeing our child score a goal, get an A+ on a math test, or play beautifully at a piano recital. We enjoy—and can become addicted to—seeing them achieve.
So, as I reflected on all this the other day, I became really irritated! Can I not just be happy when my kid does well?!Seriously, does this whole parenting thing really have to be this complicated?!
The more I study and experience life as a parent, the more I realize it is really easy to screw up our kids if we aren’t intentional!
How I sometimes long to return to the days where my greatest challenges were diaper blow-outs!
Celebrate vs Praise
So, I can see it now. Time is ticking down as my daughter dribbles down the court, her team down by 2. She steps up and as time expires, she drains a 3-pointer to win the game. What am I supposed to do? Can I not tell her she is awesome?! Am I not allowed to be jumping up and down, going crazy?
For some time, I believed the principles of a growth mindset suggested almost an emotionless response to results, and that we only praise their processand their efforts. It’s something that’s weighed on me a great deal as a coach and even as a parent. And it is a concern that many coaches and parents have shared with me, as well.
I have come to understand there is a difference between celebrating and praising.
As good parents and coaches, we need to share in the highs and lows. We can and should definitely celebrate our children’s achievements. When they get an A+ on a paper they worked hard on, celebrate! When they are selected to the All-Star team, celebrate! When they get accepted to college, celebrate! We celebrate by sharing in their highs. We jump up and down with excitement, high five, hug, and cheer.
Similarly, we should most definitely empathize with our child’s struggles and failures. When they miss a big shot, we can put our arm around them. When they don’t get selected to the all-star team, we can be sad with them. When they get cut from the team, we can hold them as they cry. We empathize with them by sharing in their frustrations, disappointments, and sadness.
But what we say next and how we say it is critical. This is where we have to become intentional!
When we cheer, when we give them a high five, and when we tell them we are proud of them, we must let them know we are proud of their effort, their sportsmanship, and their resilience.
Similarly, when we put our arm around them, when we share in their disappoint, and when we hold them as they cry, we must let them know we are proud of their effort, their sportsmanship, and their resilience—Assuming, of course, that they gave great effort, displayed great sportsmanship, and were resilient!
Call to Action
It’s okay to be that parent jumping up and down with joy! It’s okay to cover ourselves from head to toe in the team colors. And it’s probably even okay to sneak into the student section to join in on the cheering. (Yes, I have seen his before!)
Just make sure that when you celebrate, you communicate that you are proud of their effort and you make sure they know you love them regardless of the points they score, the minutes the play, or what’s on the scoreboard.
Celebrate their achievements; praise their effort.
—J.P. Nerbun is a transformative coach, public speaker, writer, and mentor. You can find JP at thriveonchallenge.com
If you have read one my blogs before, you know that my perspective comes largely from a coach trying to bridge the gap between parents and coaches. We need to work together to provide a transformational experience for our children!
It was really special to write this from the perspective of a sports parent. Please continue to share these articles with coaches and sports parents, so that we can call each other up to be better coaches and better parents.