By Charlotte Reznick PhD
Sometimes anxiety can stop kids from enjoying activities they used to adore. Love of a sport can create unrealistic expectations and negative attitudes–I’ll never be perfect, or I’m afraid I’ll let my teammates down.
If you’re puzzled because your happy child who used to love skating or basketball has been replaced by a child who no longer wants to participate in sports, here are five imagination tools that can help. These visualization tools are also great for kids who love athletic activities, but want to improve their skills.
Act out a slow-motion picture. Have your child close her eyes and tell you, frame by frame, each part of the action he or 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 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.
Be a spectator. Tell your child to imagine 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.
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.
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 the secret of their success.
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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Charlotte Reznick PhD is a child educational psychologist, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA, and author of the LA Times bestselling book The Power of Your Childâ€™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 childrenâ€™s imagination. You can find out more about her at www.imageryforkids.com.