Many of you will know that I have a little boy called Evan who is a bit of an ongoing N=1 experiment in how to develop a sportsperson with a 'growth mindset'. Evan is 7 (Evan Seven!) and he is a proper multi sport kid. The list of sports that he does is pretty long but at the moment he does gymnastics, cricket (fundamentals), golf and swimming as well as a range of informal garden games that I play with him.
He is getting pretty good at his golf, he goes to some junior coaching on a saturday afternoon and his game is getting better all the time. We are lucky to have a 3 hole academy course at the club that I am a member of and it is usually pretty deserted so we can usually play around as many times as we like. I have to say that it is a pretty special feeling being able to play golf with your little boy and I do love to watch him learn each time he goes round. He usually plays pretty happily and the experience is a lot fo fun for us both.
But our latest round was very different.... it is probably fair to say that it was quite an interesting learning experience for both of us in more ways than one!
When we play we have started having little competitions, Evan has a number of shots that he is able to complete each hole in that we call 'Evvy Par' and I have to complete the hole in the standard par to match him (this is called 'Daddy Par'). Of late I have failed to match him that many times and so Evan suggested that we change his Evvy Par to "give me a chance" (sheesh!).
Traditionally after the round we go to the club house and he has a juice and a chocolate bar (Twix is his favourite) but this time I thought I would try something and suggested that we 'play for the Twix'. If he wins he gets all of it to himself....if I win, we share it.
That's when it got really interesting...
So we are standing on the first tee and he gets out his 7 iron (he could reach the green with his fairway wood but his 7 iron is his favourite club, he is playing safe!) but he tops the ball and it goes about 2 yards in front of him, he wheels around with a the look of anguish on his face was soul destroying! He wanted me to give him a mulligan, I said that he can have 1 mulligan in the round and he could use it now if he wanted to or save it for later. He tried again and hit a low shot that went into the semi rough and started to stomp off after it with a big black cloud over his head and a face like thunder....
He ended up making 8 shots on the hole (an Evvy double bogey) where as I made 'Daddy Par' and was 1 up.
The rest of the round then saw Evan disappear into a slump of dispair with quite a few tears being shed and a number of minor tantrums when things didn't go right for him. When I asked him why he was so one stage he just shouted to me "I just really want the whole Twix why can't you just let me win"?
So I was faced with a bit of dilemma. On the one hand the coach in me was thinking that this was a brilliant learning moment for him and that I just needed to let him work through it . On the other hand the parent in me was thinking that I could or should help him out in come way otherwise he might not want to play again.
So I went into questioning mode...
Why was he so upset?
Why did he think that things were going wrong?
Was being upset helping him play better or play worse?
What could he do to get better?
I won't try and pretend that all of his reponses were entirely rational and he didnt really want to talk about things too much butI could tell that they had an effect because he did knuckle down and ended up winning the last couple of holes so that my winning margin was only hole.
We shook hands and went to the club house.
In the club house we just chatted and I said to him that he could have the rest of his Twix after dinner if he thought about what happened and told me what he had learned.
In the car on the way home he said that he had learned that getting upset doesn't help him play better and that he should try and be calmer if he wants to play well.
Bingo...one proud dad!
So what were my takeaways from this experience?
1. Be careful with incentives / rewards.
I was quite surprised at how powerful a small thing such as playing for the reward could be. He was always going to win at least half a Twix but to him that was massive! What I thought was a small amount of added interest and pressure was actually huge for him. I need to make sure that
2. Fight your instincts
Resist the temptation to wrap your arms around your struggling upset child when they are having a hard time. My instinct was screaming at me to help him by saying that it would be alright and that we didn't have to play for the Twix but I also knew that I could send a very powerful message at that point. He could be self reliamt and he could come through this...I am convinced that it will benefit him in the long term.
3. Let them struggle - that's where the learning is.
By the end of the session he had bounced back and was his usual bubbly self and he had learned something valuable. It was a bit of an unexpected experience but one that he will be able to call upon in the future.
That said it will be interesting to see of he wants to play for a Twix next time around!