As people we are often easily influenced by what others in our life say about us – for better or for worse. For athletes this may be especially true, as some kids will play “over their head” and beyond what might have previously been thought possible with an inspirational and positive coach, while other kids may play down and below their abilities if they are coaches by an adult who regularly belittles, teases, and chastises (Advanced Human Performance Systems).
When a parent, coach, or other respected adult perpetuates a prediction or belief, oftentimes kids will live up to the prediction or belief. We call this a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you can witness this phenomenon in academics, music, art, and sports. For example, if a youngster is repeatedly told that he has special creative talents, it’s quite likely he will spend more time and effort doing creative things. As he continues to engages in creative activities, he will probably get better through his dedicated efforts, lending evidence that self-fulfilling prophecies can impact human development (in this case, creativity).
Positive self-fulfilling prophecies happen in sports all the time, as many coaches do a great job inspiring kids to believe in themselves and use their above-average natural talents. Whether the kid actually has above-average potential doesn’t matter, as the prophecy set by the coach usually increases motivation and mental toughness, refines focus, galvanizes resiliency, and inevitably helps the kid play to his or her highest ability. The prophecy, therefore, actually serves as a catalyst to bring out the best the kid has to offer – regardless of whether there was a previous genetic advantage or not.
Unfortunately, the opposite can also occur for coaches who make flippant remarks about a kid’s inabilities. For example, telling a kid he “couldn’t hit the side of a barn with that poor throwing arm” may prompt a youngster to prematurely quit throwing based on the false belief that he has no ability to throw well. Ironically, he may actually have above-average abilities to throw that have yet been developed, but since he has come to believe he can’t throw (based on the coach’s negative remark), he will quit practicing throwing and inevitably never develop his throwing talent.
Become aware of the power of self-fulfilling prophecies and how they impact human development – especially with kids. If you are a coach or serve in another capacity leading kids, pay close attention to the things you say to kids that may demoralizing in nature and actually hinder or limit future development. Belief is a very powerful construct and can make a huge difference in personal development, so be sure to instill positive belief in the kids you mentor.