It's finally spring. The kids are out playing ball -- baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis -- anything to have fun and move. How would you like to help your child feel as successful as an Olympic athlete? Your child's love of a sport can motivate him to learn the same positive visualization techniques that Olympic athletes have used for decades.
Sometimes however, anxiety can stop kids from enjoying activities they used to adore. Desire to succeed can also create unrealistic expectations and negative attitudes: "I'll never be perfect," or, "I'm afraid I'll let my teammates down." Olympic athletes provide a good role model for kids to emulate, because they've learned to handle the pressure and still have fun.
If you want to support your child to reach for the gold yet celebrate the bonze -- or if your once-happy child that used to love skating or basketball no longer wants to participate -- here are nine imagination tools that can help.
Deal With Doubt
1) Find fear and summon confidence.
After your child takes a few deep breaths from his belly, ask him to picture any fear that creates hesitancy to play his sport, but also to concentrate on the feeling that could help him the most: confidence. Describe each one. What does it look like? What color is it? Where does it live in his body? Which one, fear or confidence, is larger or stronger? Rank each on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is nonexistent and 10 is the biggest.
2) Build confidence and let fear fade.
Ask her to imagine filling her whole body with confidence through her intention and her breath. Notice what happens to fear. It likely fades or shrinks. She can also enclose fear inside a bubble that gets smaller and smaller. Or take confidence and stretch it in all directions so that it grows. Then have her rank each again on the 0-to-10 scale again and see the difference.
3) Let go of the rest.
If there's any fear left, a simple dialogue can actually help confidence grow. Have your child invite fear and confidence for a chat. Ask fear what it is afraid of, or what it wants confidence to do, or what it needs from confidence. You can lead in with a specific scenario, such as "When you're in try-outs...," "When the ball is pitched to you..." or "When your coach yells at you..."
4) Summon an animal guide.
An imaginary animal friend can give him strength, make him faster or more fearless, or help him be more accurate and precise in his movements. Have him take belly breaths, close his eyes and imagine a calm place, such as a forest or meadow. Invite an animal into the scene and have him describe it. Ask how it wants to help him be more successful in his sport. Once he has an animal guide, he can summon it any time: before a competition, before try-outs, or even during a game.
Ready For Success
5) Act out a slow-motion picture.
Have your child close her eyes and tell you, frame by frame, each part of the action she wants to accomplish -- say, a skating twirl. Keep slowing down her movie, drawing attention to small details, such as the feel of the air in the ice rink, the sound of the blade and the swishing of her ponytail. The longer you can draw it out, the more vivid the entire action becomes. Her body can "learn" great mechanics just by imagining them.
6) Be a spectator.
Tell your child to imagine that he is sitting on the bleachers, watching himself go up to bat. Now have him describe how he looks, smiling at the team and nodding to the coach, getting into a great stance, focusing on the ball, and smashing it into the outfield. Tell him to run all around the bases. Such a grand start-to-finish act imprints on his mind as success.
7) Engage all the senses.
Ask your child to visualize her accomplishment using as many senses as she can. Let's say she's sinking a foul shot. What does the leathery basketball feel like? What sounds does she hear? What's the taste in her mouth? Are there distinctive smells in the gym? What is she seeing all around her? Involving the senses is a great way to make the sports action come to life. Her body will remember exactly what it feels like to sink that ball next time she's at the free-throw line.
8) Jump to success.
After your child has practiced different ways of visualizing, don't forget to have him see success while he's doing the activity. When he goes up to bat, remind him to see himself smacking that ball. Just before she goes out on the ice, have her see herself doing the spin effortlessly. All great athletes have learned how to visualize in the moment -- the puck going into the goal, or nailing the landing on a big ski jump -- and this kind of visualization is one secret of their success.
9) Use positive language.
In visualization, perspective doesn't matter; he can feel himself inside the experience or watch it like a movie. But language does matter. Help him use affirmations in his performance images. The creative brain can't register negative instructions, such as "Don't miss that ball." Change the statement into "I can hit that ball!"
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This piece is adapted from "The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success."
Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D. is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA and author of the Los Angeles Times bestselling book, "The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success" (Perigee/Penguin). In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation CDs for children, teens and parents, and teaches workshops internationally on the healing power of children's imaginations. You can find out more about her at www.ImageryForKids.com.