Examining Athletic “Potential” and the Relation to Athletic Success
I often have parents tell me about their son or daughter’s mental toughness and athletic potential, and how great their child is when competing in practice or other non-game, low pressure situations. While it is always nice to hear a parent proudly talk of their child’s potential, it is also important to note that potential is just that — potential. In other words, what really matters is the child’s ability to turn potential into real, tangible, athletic results!
One sport psychology quote I have always liked as it applies to potential is “you are what your record says you are.” Athletes are judged by what they actually do and how they perform in games, and not the abilities they can display by chance on rare occasion, or in non-pressure situations. While potential is a nice talking point, it is often the end point for many people as they hang onto potential as a defense mechanism to help with the anxiety associated with seeing potential stop short of actually turning into regular, successful athletic behaviors and movements.
The message here today is not to dismiss potential, but to instead prompt sports parents to try and quickly move beyond the word “potential” and instead evaluate real-life results. Unfortunately, many sports parents tend to hang onto athletic potential for too long, using it as a way of denying the reality of a situation. Trust me, after working with sports parents for over 20 years, nearly every parent sees their child’s “potential,” and most also base this on seeing moments of excellence in practice or some other low-pressure situation. While this is nice, keep in mind the “jump” from doing something in a non-threatening, backyard situation to a real-life game situation is a huge mental toughness leap for many kids – one that is much more challenging than what meets the eye. Remember, anxiety (something commonly experienced in sports) can dramatically hinder athletic potential from developing, thereby thwarting potential in its tracks.
Again, potential is a nice thing to talk about, and it can sometimes be used to help a child with focus, motivation, and confidence development. The key is to identify and discuss potential, but then move on quickly and base your judgements and opinions on real-life results whenever possible. Keeping a level head and rational thinking will allow you to better help your child in many ways, perhaps most importantly with respect to your personal expectations and the decisions you will make around future level of competition in the leagues you choose (i.e. travel vs. recreational). We all see our loved ones in biased ways, and it’s very normal to see athletic “potential” in your child that might be very different than what others see. Keep cheering and support your young athlete, but try to watch him or her objectively, too.
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.