Choosing the right time to communicate
In Part One of this article, I talked about the need to step back and be patient when communicating with young people, allowing them to process your questions and get clarity within a swirling brain before they answer. I emphasised the importance of open questions and of not jumping in with suggestions or making assumptions when they don’t answer straight away.
Well, timing is crucial too. If you bombard a youngster who is about to compete with a million questions and a running commentary on what they should or shouldn’t do in the next few minutes – they’ll end up competing while the ‘muddy brain’ is still whirling around and confusing them. They need settled clarity to perform at their best which only comes with giving them the time they need to process their thoughts.
The same goes for when they’ve finished. Nervous excitement, possible disappointment in their own performance and a fear of letting down those they care about (parent, coach) will be streaming through them and again muddying the brain.
Asking them “what happened?” may be genuine curiosity on your part after seeing a skater who is brilliant in practice fall apart in a competition skate, but the recipient, filled with spiralling emotions will likely take it as a huge criticism and feel worse because they think they have let you down.
Saying “it doesn’t matter” can be even worse. You are telling them (in their world) that you don’t care about skating – it’s not important – when it is the only thing that matters to them in the universe at that moment.
“Never mind, you never do well at this competition” – will absolutely embed that into their brain and is almost certain to guarantee even more nerves next time as they will be totally convinced that they’ll fail.
And bombarding them with comments about what went wrong and what they should have done will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Let them process the emotions they are feeling and then you can have a meaningful discussion about their performance when they are ready to do so! Otherwise your well-intentioned critique of their programme will be taken as criticism and will add hurt and guilt to the overwhelming wave of emotions. Likewise questioning their choice of sport or suggesting they should give it up if they aren’t enjoying it any more (it may not seem so in the moment, but they are!) only shows them that you really don’t understand! (Not exclusively, but often a mistake made by dads!).
So after the programme, when the emotions are still being processed, stay quiet! Let them wait until the muddy swirl has settled and they are ready to talk about it. If it didn’t go well and they are upset, just give them a gentle hug and let them cry it out. They’ll be ready to talk about it in due course, but forcing the issue and asking for a blow by blow account of what happened is neither helpful in the moment nor for future confidence.
Be quiet. Be patient. Be supportive and be positive.