TrueSport Resources

 6 Simple Reasons Why Athletes Fail to Meet Their Goals
(5/27/2021)
 
 
   

6 Simple Reasons Why Athletes Fail to Meet Their Goals


Why your athlete is struggling with their goals and how to find success


If your young athlete tends to lose focus partway through a season or fails to achieve their goals by the end of the season, they aren’t alone. Setting and achieving suitable goals isn’t an easy task, especially for kids who are also dealing with the expectations of the adults around them.

Here, Daniel Gould, PhD, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, explains why your athlete is struggling with their goals and what they can do differently to find success.

1. They Don’t Have Ownership
“With kids, it's easy for them not to own their goal,” says Gould. "In other words, a coach or a parent often tells them what their goal is, and because they didn’t come up with it, the athlete really doesn't have the drive to commit to it.”

You can help an athlete overcome this roadblock by letting them make a list of goals for the season without any input from you. You can discuss the goals after they are written out, but until then, refrain from giving advice. Make sure it's really the athlete’s goals, not them echoing what they’ve heard or been told.

2. They Don’t Have a Plan
“Every adult has experience making a New Year’s Resolution that we didn't follow up on,” Gould says. "That’s because we spend so much time identifying what the goal is, but then we spend a lot less time developing the plan for achieving it.” Without a plan for getting to the finish line, a young athlete is dreaming, not goal-setting.

Gould explains, “A child might say, 'I want to make the starting lineup.' But to make the starting lineup, do they know what do they need to do? Most kids will say, 'I don't know.' But you can help your athlete figure it out. Depending on the sport, it may be 'I need to improve certain types of shots.’ Or more simply, 'I need to be on time to every practice.’” Help your child create a road map, either written out or drawn as a timeline, of how to achieve each goal.

3. They Don’t Revisit the Goal
"This is a really common problem,” Gould says. "Everybody sets goals at the beginning of the year, but rarely do they revisit them on a regular basis to evaluate progress. Goal-setting only works if people get feedback relative to their goal.” Both coaches and parents can figure out a way to create ongoing feedback for an athlete and incorporate some kind of metric or evaluation.

Research has also showed that motivation tends to wane between the time of goal-setting and the point of achieving the goal, but setting related mini-goals that are actionable can keep motivation high.

4. The Goals Are Too Vague or Too Big
"We know that goals that are specific and measurable are much more effective than 'do your best' general goals,” Gould says. "For example, if I tell my kid that I want him to have a better attitude, that’s extremely general. That means so many things to different people. Instead, really break down what behaviors you want to see, such as demonstrating good sportsmanship, not making any snide remarks to officials, hustling between all drills, and saying thank you to your coach. Really clarify what success means.”

And goals don’t have to be massive championship-winning goals to be satisfying. Research has shown that smaller goals that are more easily achieved can be incredibly satisfying, so make sure that your athlete isn’t just setting huge goals.

5. They Expect Perfection
Basketball legend Michael Jordan famously said that he missed more than 9,000 shots in his career. There are baseball players in the Hall of Fame who failed seven out of 10 times at the plate. “The whole idea that you have to be perfect is just unrealistic, yet kids believe that it’s possible,” says Gould.

“But sports are a great way to teach a young person that one failure doesn’t mean that a goal is now unachievable or out of reach. If they fail at a goal, just help them reboot: Set new, realistic goals based on new information.” Later in life, we rarely have the opportunity to learn from failures with minimal repercussions, so use youth sport as a way for kids to build those skills and resilience that will serve them outside of sport and later in life.

6. Their Goals Aren’t Your Goals
Sometimes, an athlete’s failure to meet a goal is simply a case of mismatched expectations between them and an adult. For instance, a parent might have been the star defensive soccer player in high school and therefore expect the same from their child - even though that young athlete would rather be playing tennis. Make sure athletes actually want to achieve the goals that they set!

Takeaway
It’s not surprising that many young athletes lose interest in goals or fail to achieve their goals during a season. Keep these barriers to success in mind as you help your young athletes set and work towards their goals.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Eat for Immune Support During COVID-19
(4/7/2021)
 
 
   

How to Eat for Immune Support During COVID-19


Basic tips on eating for immune health


Nervous about your young athlete’s immune system as cold and flu season continues and COVID-19 is still a part of everyday life? You’re not alone. But luckily, there are some easy ways to boost your child’s immune health without turning to supplements or pills: Food can be a powerful tool in your efforts to keep your child healthy this year.

Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, shares her best tips for boosting immunity in the kitchen.

Educate your athlete
Ziesmer believes that when kids are educated about nutrition, it’s easier to encourage healthy eating. “I like to explain to kids how digestion works: when you eat something, it travels through your body and it gets absorbed into your whole system, so if you're eating a bunch of junk food, that's what is absorbed into your system and you won’t perform your best.” She recommends watching an explanatory video or two about the digestive system with your kids to help get them on board with improving their diets.

Improve the microbiome
Research has shown that immunity is linked to good gut health, which means a healthy gut microbiome. That’s right, not all bacteria are bad—and having a healthy balance in the gut can go a long way towards keeping your child healthy.

“There's no one magic food, but you can start improving immunity by having a healthy gut microbiome,” Ziesmer says. “The bacteria in your gut affects so many different things in your body, and about 70 percent of your immune system is found in your digestive tract. We want to populate our gut with good bacteria, which comes from fermented foods. Eating those foods will raise the level of healthy bacteria in your stomach, which will boost your immune system.”

Ziesmer recommends gut-bacteria-boosting foods that are rich in probiotics, including sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.

Eat the rainbow—especially greens
“Eating a generally healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables will provide vitamin C, vitamin E, and different antioxidants,” Ziesmer says. So, make sure that most meals are colorful, with a wide variety of vegetables, whole grains, and clean protein sources. Green vegetables in particular have been shown to potentially boost immunity, and of course, are part of any healthy diet.

Sneak in greens whenever possible, whether it’s a handful of spinach in a smoothie, broccoli in a stir fry, or a little extra arugula on your athlete’s sandwich.

Add more fiber
Certain fibers—including those found in apples, oats, and nuts—have been shown to strengthen the immune system while decreasing inflammation. Meaning that yes, an apple a day may keep the doctor away! “Naturally occurring fiber found in fruit and vegetables also helps populate your gut with healthy bacteria,” Ziesmer adds. “Probiotics are the healthy bacteria, but prebiotics are the fibers from foods that the healthy bacteria eat. Apples, bananas, asparagus, oats, and Jerusalem artichokes are great prebiotic sources.”

Watch out for fast food
Fatty foods, primarily those that are deep-fried and high in sodium as well as fat, have been linked to worse immune health, so it’s critical to keep the overall food quality of your athlete’s diet high. The occasional trip to a fast food spot won’t destroy your child’s immunity, but it’s important to make a high-quality diet a priority.

"If your athlete is eating a lot of junk food, that's obviously going to make the bacteria in the stomach more toxic rather than increasing the good bacteria,” says Ziesmer. “When eating out, you're going to be consuming a lot more saturated fat, salt, preservatives, and additives, all of which can raise the level of inflammation within the body and counteract the effects of having the healthy bacteria in your stomach.”

Even picky eaters need to eat right
It’s tough to push a plate of vegetables on a picky eater, but it’s critical for their health. Ziesmer recommends starting off by just putting certain vegetable on their plate at dinner. “Some kids have to be exposed to new foods 20 times before they will even try them,” she says.

You can also increase buy-in by having kids help pick new recipes, grocery shop, and food prep. And when all else fails, Ziesmer says to disguise foods, adding spinach to smoothies or wrapping asparagus in prosciutto. Or, she recommends the classic banana, which is packed with fiber and other vital nutrients. “Most kids like bananas,” she says. “Put one in the freezer and it’s just like ice cream!”

Takeaway
Food can be one of the many tools you use to help keep your young athletes healthy, and it doesn’t have to be hard with these basic tips on eating for immune health.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 5 Easy Ways for Young Athletes to Practice Gratitude
(3/10/2021)
 
   

5 Easy Ways for Young Athletes to Practice Gratitude


How coaches and parents can help their athletes practice an attitude of gratitude


Practicing gratitude has been a trending topic amongst mental health and wellness experts in recent years, and for good reason: This simple shift in thinking can lead to big change. According to the American Psychological Association, teens who practice gratitude are more likely to be happier in general and less likely to have behavior problems at school. They’re also likely to be healthier overall, according to new research, and could even be more likely to easily make friends.

But can gratitude also help them on the field? TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says yes, and explains how coaches and parents can help their athletes practice an attitude of gratitude.

1. Understand process versus outcome
Gratitude helps ground athletes in the present moment by reminding them of the positives that are happening right now. "Depending on what an athlete is struggling with, you may find that getting them to be more attentive to feelings of gratitude is an antidote to some of the difficulties they face,” Chapman says. “Anytime you have negative self-talk and thoughts, those lead to strong emotional experiences that can inhibit your performance. In those cases, it’s always helpful to identify the things that you're grateful for.”

“For instance, some athletes struggle with not scoring goals. Many of those athletes will focus on that negative outcome and will tend to perceive their identity as part of their results and their performance, which can result in a lot of negative self-talk. But you can help them by reminding them why they're playing the sport, as opposed to the outcome of playing their sport. That’s a simple way to get them to shift their attention to being present, being grateful, being thankful that they can play. The goal is to get them back to enjoying the game, as opposed to focusing on the future or the outcome of the game."

2. Rewrite self-talk
“When I have an athlete who struggles with self-talk, I think it’s really important to specifically identify the negative things that they're saying to themselves that are outcome-focused,” Chapman says. "Once they can identify the negative self-talk, then that forms the basis to replace it with more flexible thoughts associated with gratitude.”

You can work on this with your athletes by first having them list five negative self-talk phrases that come to mind for them, then identifying what they could say instead to flip the script to something more positive.

"I get athletes to focus on what they're going to say to themselves before, during, and after competition,” he adds. “Statements like 'I love this game,’ or ‘I feel good when I focus on my own game,’ can help them concentrate on those feelings of gratitude. I get athletes to memorize about five positive self-talk statements that they can easily recall in various instances during sport performance. That way, when they do have a bad performance, they can use one of those affirmations while doing some deep breathing, and then move on. And outside of the game, I want athletes looking at those statements twice a day to get them fixed in their brains.”

3. Make a cue card
Chapman recommends having each athlete make his or her own index card with a list of a few things they’re grateful for, and at least one positive self-talk mantra at the bottom. “I have athletes write this out and put it in their locker, keep it in their duffel bag for competitions, or even go digital and put it on the home screen of their phone so they can see it all the time,” he says.

You can also recommend that athletes make one of these cue cards on a monthly basis. New negative self-talk will constantly be buzzing in the background, so it’s important to make sure that positive self-talk is regularly responding to the new stimulus.

4. Ask the right questions
After a competition, a lot of athletes, parents, and coaches will focus on the outcome, what went wrong, and what a team can do better the next time rather than the effort and the process.

“Asking athletes—and getting them to start asking themselves—things like, ‘What did I learn today?' is a really good way to not only keep a process-focus, but to also focus on gratitude,” Chapman says. You can also ask gratitude-specific questions, like what they were most thankful for during the game, or have them tell a teammate how grateful they were for their support.

Overall, Chapman advises parents and coaches to “Allow them to experience their emotions and thoughts, just try to shift them towards a more positive pattern."

5. Start a gratitude board or team practice
As the coach, you can create a team culture of gratitude. One way to do so, especially with younger athletes, but also with teens, is by having a large team gratitude board set up where athletes can write out one thing that they’re grateful for each day. Alternatively, you can have athletes do this out loud.

Let your team decide on how they want to start a gratitude practice together, Chapman suggests. “It depends on the athletes and it depends on what speaks to them."

Takeaway
Gratitude can be practiced just like standard skills and drills, leading to both performance and general wellness benefits.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Raise Upstanders, Instead of Bystanders
(2/24/2021)
 
   

How to Raise Upstanders, Instead of Bystanders


Five strategies to help your athletes become upstanders instead of bystanders


As young athletes navigate through adolescence, they may run into situations that challenge their moral compass. Whether your athlete is faced with an ethical dilemma in school, in sport, or in the community, doing the right thing is important – no matter who is watching.

In a study about young children and the bystander effect, results showed that although children are typically extremely helpful to others in need, they are more inclined to assist others only when the responsibility is clearly attributed to them. Children were less likely to help when there were other potential helpers around because there was a diffusion of responsibility. Here are five strategies to help your athletes become upstanders instead of bystanders in those complex times when their sense of responsibility and decision-making skills are tested.

Reinforce positive behaviors
Kids can learn about caring, fairness, and how to lead an ethical life from the people around them, so it’s up to adults to lead by example when it comes to intervening in a situation where someone needs help.

“One of the simplest ways to help kids learn new behaviors is to reinforce them as they happen,” explains Michelle Borba, PhD, an internationally recognized character education expert, educational psychologist, and award-winning author of 22 parenting books.

“Purposely catch your child acting morally and acknowledge their good behavior by describing what they did right and why you appreciate it.”

Teach them to become active bystanders
According to the Safety Net Coalition at Loyola University in Chicago, an active bystander is someone who not only witnesses a situation, but takes action to keep a situation from escalating or to disrupt a problematic situation.

When kids decide to speak up on another person’s behalf, it takes courage. Sitting in silence when you recognize someone is being hurt can also be devastating and fill your child with guilt after the incident.

Teach your athlete how to become action-oriented and assertive when it comes to situations that are unjust in their eyes. For example, if your athlete sees a teammate taunting an athlete on an opposing team, encourage them to be an upstander and leader by taking action to stop the bullying, whether it’s by helping the target walk away, telling an adult, or another method.

Expand your child’s circle of concern
Another way to raise upstanders is to expand their circle of concern. By teaching your young athlete to show care and concern to a wider network of people, you’re teaching them that their decisions have an impact on others in their community.

Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Care Common Project encourages parents to “cultivate children’s concern for others because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do, and also because when children can empathize with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful.”

So, the next time your child is debating whether they should invite one of their teammates or classmates to their birthday party, for example, ask them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and how they would feel if they didn’t get an invite to a party that everyone else was invited to.

Practice kindness and empathy
Empathy creates compassion for other people’s perspectives.

In her book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, Borba shares, “Empathy can be instilled, and it is composed of teachable habits that can be developed, practiced, and lived. Empathy is what lays the foundation for helping children live one essential truth: We are all humans who share the same fears and concerns and deserve to be treated with dignity.”

When your athlete is regularly exposed to kindness and empathy, they grow both socially and emotionally. So, whether your athlete is having a tough time with a teammate’s attitude or they’re struggling with the coach’s decision to bench them for a game, acknowledge what they’re feeling and continue to encourage them to look at the situation from another perspective.

Create a positive, caring family motto
Borba also recommends that parents develop a family mantra. “Ask your child, ‘What do I stand for in this house? What really makes the difference in this house? What do you think is important to me in this house?’”

Borba adds that “You’ll begin to hear the kinds of values that your child thinks are important. Then, you can come up with some fun, memorable motto.”

As your athlete lives out your new motto, they will begin to internalize that positivity, which will soon be reflected in school, on the field, and in situations when it matters most.
______

Most parents hope to raise kids who play by the rules, are brave enough to stand up for what is right, and who make sure that everyone is treated fairly, equally, and honestly.

These strategies will encourage your athlete to help others as they foster their sense of personal responsibility.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Hidden Resilience: How to Build a Team
(2/10/2021)
 
   

Hidden Resilience: How to Build a Team


How you can help shift problematic behaviors to more positive ones


Have you ever considered the possibility that the behaviors you find most aggravating within your team might be undercover superpowers?

While we know resiliency is one’s ability to overcome adversity, it’s also important to recognize hidden resilience, which is the ability to overcome adversity using behaviors that are not always viewed as positive. Searching for hidden resilience means taking traditionally ‘bad behaviors’ and figuring out how to flip them to find a positive skill.

Nadia Kyba, MSW, TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, gives the example of a player who’s always calling others out for things they’re doing wrong. While the habit may be negatively received by their teammates, the athlete might actually have the makings of a good coaching assistant if those critiques could be channeled positively.

According to Kyba, there is often some hidden resilience behind bullying-type behaviors. But how can you help shift those problematic behaviors to more positive ones?

1. Look beyond the surface
Bullying behaviors are obviously not acceptable on a team, but don’t stop at simply shutting it down. Try to understand what is causing the behavior.

"Some of the reasons an athlete might be bullying others is because they're looking for a chance to be accepted and have meaningful participation, or they're looking for self-determination,” says Kyba. "They want to take charge of what happens to them, so they're creating those outcomes for themselves by bullying other people.” That kind of hidden resilience is a protection mechanism, often hiding a fear of failure or embarrassment.

2. Remember kids are smarter than you think
“If a child can anticipate an outcome, even if it's going to be a negative outcome, they may do that thing because at least there is predictability,” says Kyba. For example, if a child is extremely nervous about the outcome of a big game, they may actively try to talk back during practice or show up late in order to guarantee they get benched.

If you can talk to an athlete who you suspect is using that kind of behavior to avoid feelings of vulnerability, you may be able to help them set and manage new expectations, and give them new tools for developing as an athlete and a human.

3. Consider past traumas
Kyba often refers to a trauma-informed approach, which means that coaches look beyond how an athlete is currently behaving and seek to understand what happened to them in the past to cause those behaviors. This approach can help you understand how and why an athlete is using his or her hidden resilience as a tool.

“Rather than thinking, ‘Oh, he’s just being lazy by showing up late to practice,’ say, ‘I know he’s being resilient. He’s had some adversity and he's overcoming it by setting his own schedule to feel in control.’ This shift—whether you’re accurately assessing the situation or not—helps you feel a level of empathy for the athlete that you may not have had before, which may make it easier to have a conversation with the student." With this empathy, it’s also easier to move to the next stage, where you work to help them to channel their behavior more proactively.

4. Turn the negative to a positive
Often, it’s hard for young athletes to see themselves clearly, and most of the motivators behind hidden resilience won’t be understood by the athlete. But as an adult, you can see how an athlete can tap into that reserve of resilience and channel it in more positive ways.

Kyba explains, “Often, you have to give the athlete a substitute for the problem behavior. Explain that instead of being the ‘loud kid’ on the team, they can be the leader on the team. Instead of acting out to get banned from the game, they can do some extra practice sessions and visualization exercises to feel more prepared.”

5. Normalize team conversations
Communication, done early and often, can solve most problems before they start. “Having regular team meetings is incredibly important,” Kyba says. “Let athletes voice their concerns without fear of reprisal. Talk about if there are conflicts happening, discuss team guidelines, leave the floor open for athletes to talk about areas where they’re not happy.” If you can normalize these meetings early on in the season, it becomes easier to have honest, open conversations.

Takeaway
An athlete’s past experiences and traumas, however small, may significantly impact their behaviors in many settings, including sport. While these behaviors may be problematic, and even include bullying behaviors, it’s important to recognize the hidden resilience behind them and help the athlete channel that strength into more positive actions.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.