Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Preparing for shifts in the breeze: Building confidence and character through sailing

by Jessica M. Mohler, Psy.D., CC-AASP
Clinical and Sport Psychologist
United States Naval Academy

The summer is about to begin. You may have signed up for summer camps back in January or maybe just last week! But soon, school will break for summer, and we will all make the shift to a different schedule. Some of you may have your children in a sailing program all summer while others may choose one evening a week. In many parts of the country, there are several choices for sailing programs, whether it’s an intense racing program or part of a more diverse day camp. I was recently talking to other parents about summer plans for their children. A number of the parents had decided that sailing was an important skill to teach their children as we live in a boating community. The variety of plans for learning how to sail reminded me of the differences in sailing programs, and also how a parent’s own experiences influence those of their children.


Last summer I wrote about goal setting and the suggestion of Ginsburg, Durant and Batzell (2006) to use a three step approach to set goals:

1. Know your child
2. Know yourself
3. Know your child’s sports environment.

Although you may have reviewed this last summer, it’s time again to look at these three factors to ensure that you are fitting your child’s daily experiences with your family’s mission. Whether you signed your child up six months ago and are hoping that they are as excited about sailing as they were then, or whether you are looking for a program this week, both of these situations provide an opportunity to learn more about your child and what will lead to their success and happiness.

As children get older and gain more experience, they become more aware of what they like and what they don’t, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Your guidance through this growth can help build confidence and character. For some children these shifts in belief can happen weekly, and for others, it can be hourly! Your guidance is an ongoing process that takes patience and skill, and ultimately the more shifts your child encounters, the more prepared you are for the next. Just like sailing, when you take your reading of the wind at the beginning of the course and try to predict which way the wind will shift, sometimes those predictions work, and you get to your destination or weather mark easily. However, on other days the wind is shifty and you have to make many more decisions about whether to tack when headed or dig in a little deeper before you go.

Building confidence and character can take the same path, you can try to predict what will work for your child and often you can do that well, but sometimes you have to react to the environment and their own shifting beliefs to stay on course.

So why are confidence and character important for youth sailors? Having a confident youth sailor who has moral qualities means that your child believes in herself and her abilities, and is connected with the people who surround her. Your child’s confidence helps him create his own expectations of performance, increase his belief he can attain that level, and lastly, relate these beliefs to other tasks.

For example, when a child works hard and learns to successfully tack through the wind passing the tiller and mainsheet behind his back, he will also believe that if he tries hard, he can learn something new at school. Confidence and character in one area of your life can build confidence and character in other areas. Youth sailors who have confidence try harder, choose more challenging events, experience more positive emotion and worry less. What parent would not want this for their child?!?!    

So how do you help your youth sailor? Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that will help you build confidence and character through all of your headers and lifts:

•    Do provide feedback to motivate your child and provide support. - “Today is going to be hot on the water, I bet you get to have bailer battles and capsize drills which are so much fun.”

•    Don’t provide feedback to correct your child’s sailing skill. Leave instruction, especially correction of mistakes in sailing, up to the coaches and instructors.

•    Do provide feedback to reinforce good behavior. - “When I was picking you up today, I noticed that you were helping Jimmy put his boat away, I am proud of you for helping others especially when I know you must be tired too.”

•    Don’t praise the outcome of the event, but instead reinforce effort and personal progress.

•    Do let them have personal choices and some independence that is consistent with their age. The more personal control they perceive they have, the more motivated they will be to keep sailing. - “You said this summer that you want to sail and spend time with friends, why don’t you make plans for your friends to come over once a week or do a summer camp with them.”
•    Don’t push your child too hard before they are ready. You may inadvertently decrease their motivation, achievement and enjoyment in sailing.

•    Do take care of your own needs as a parent. If you are finding balance and enjoying life, your children will see your success and imitate. 

Have a great summer of sailing!

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