If you are curious:
- How is the character of the athlete leading him to success shaped?
- When should children have contact with a sport psychologist and why?
- How not to waste the talent? What to do when a talented child does not want to train?
Please read the interview with Katarzyna Selwant – Olympic Psychologist – currently preparing Polish national team for the TOKYO 2020 Olympic Games.
The interview is „honest to pain“ and therefore valuable to anyone who reads it. I guarantee.
Please, say a few words about yourself.
I am an Olympic Psychologist, an academic lecturer, trainer, motivational speaker and commentator on sport events. The author of motivational and practical mental traing books and many publications in the field of sport psychology, motivation and success. As the only woman nominated psychologist, I was appointed by the Polish Olympic Committee for the XXX Olympic Games London 2012, where I supported Polish athletes in the fight for Olympic medals. I currently prerare players for the TOKYO 2020 Olympic Games.
Who is a sports psychologist?
Sport psychologist is a member of the team that is around the player. This team consists of: a trainer, a physician, a physiotherapist, often a physiologist, a dietitian and, of course, a sports psychologist. It was once said that a sports psychologist is in a medical team, but I would say more broadly that he is in a training team because he conducts mental training, which is another element of sports training that is necessary for a professional athlete. Even the best athletes from the first pages of the newspapers we know, we see on television, they also train their mind and really train mentally, even though they do not always admit to it.
We must remember to distinguish a sports psychologist from a mental trainer or coach, because these are different professions. I encourage you to contact someone who has finished psychology with a sport psychology specialization, has the authority and certificate of the Polish Psychological Association – this is really crucial. It happens that the emotional state in which the player finds himself is affected by something more than just a sport and a specialist other than a psychologist, can not cope with such a problem and may even, in the most difficult cases, harm the player. I had so many players after consultations with other such “specialists” who opened the player and then did not know how to close him (this is what the psychological language says) and that was a big problem.
Is it possible to develop the character of the winner?
This is a very good question, because if you ask about the personality of the winner, or even temperament, I would say that people with different personality and with different temperament, even in the same sport competition, can be successful. These were also studies carried out all over the world, that there is no such thing as a personality profile or profile of a sports champion and this is good information for us. It means that we can succeed, but that must also be our hard work and involvement. You can develop some mental skills that will help us win. We are not born super confident, we are not born with ideally determined motivation or goal. We can acquire these skills or learn them in a lifetime or try to develop skills.
Talent or hard work, what is more important?
At the beginning, the talent for a given sport discipline is important, it is also important if we like to do it, what is our initial motivation to do sports – it is very important – but if we are talking about professional sport, I can not imagine that without any work one could achieve a success.
Many years ago I read an article about two tennis players who had similar physical predispositions to practice tennis, but one was judged to be “talented” and the other was seen as “hard-working”. I followed the history of these two tennis players; the one who “had talent”, but did not want to work so hard at some point of time, and the one who had this “hard work”. It was this hard-working, persevering player who stayed in sport and achieved success. And this “talented” at some point rested on its laurels and she did not go as far as she could.
How is the character of an athlete leading him to success shaped?
In psychology, there is no term like character. We must remember that temperament is inborn, and personality is shaped for a whole life, so I would understand the character as a combination of these two components. It is said “strength of character”, but I would say physical strength or mental strength. How can we shape mental skills? We can develop abilities, predispositions, we can also supplement our deficiencies, because where we lack to achieve the master level, our largest deposits and resources are there. If we work on these features / skills, then we can really achieve great success. However each of us needs completely different skills and in other areas. If one physically lacks strength or flexibility and speed, he can actually work on it through physical training. If someone lacks the ability to cope with stress, mental skills can also be acquired and these skills can be learned. How? With the help of specialists, trainers, you only need to figure out what you should develop first. This is the approach of a modern school. If we look at this question through the prism of the old school (40 years ago and formerly), then the answer would be: character = blood sweat and tears, because only in this way can we “grow a tough guy”. But is “tough” needed in every sport and discipline? Or maybe more concentration and control over emotions is needed?
What are the psychological methods and techniques of working with children practicing sports?
These can be drawing techniques, methods where we make detailed descriptions of the situation, we play scenes, games. This is to help us develop mental skills. For example, we can check where a child in the body feels stress and it may have a problem to tell us about it. Then we ask the child to draw a figure and in this figure to mark those areas where, for example, during an important match it felt tense or felt some discomfort during the class test. Picture and descriptive methods work very well. Children, just like adults, train mentally, watch movies, read books, do different exercises suitable to their age. There are many concentration exercises and these are simple, pictorial and colorful methods, often for memorizing something; therefore, even in adulthood, games such as pen tests, sudoku, or, for example, finding five differences, work well in children and adults. And these are simple methods.
What are the most common problems children have?
From my observation, these are: lack of self-confidence, inability to cope with stress and a lot of pressure and ambition, which unfortunately flows from parents.
How to work out this self-confidence? How can you help your child find that confidence or strengthen it?
It depends on the specific case. I would be unprofessional if I gave a general answer. It’s not like we have one ointment that we put on and it will work on self-confidence.
But one of many examples may be building a sense of self-efficiency in a child, in other words, comparing his / her achievements only with oneself. Never compared with Kris or sibling, who did five more squats, or whether he got a different grade, which is really a big mistake, because it decreases self-confidence and such lowering of self-confidence in childhood leads to the fact that in adulthood, These people have huge deficits when it comes to self-confidence.
At what moments should we support our child more than usual?
I will answer this question from the perspective of sports psychologist dealing with children practicing sports. We have different sports, including early specialization such as figure skating, artistic gymnastics, tennis, where younger children start, and then those much younger children need the same support as children who start a “professional sport” at the age of 10. So this is a moment dependent on the specificity of sport. I once had such a very young figure skater, I asked her to draw herself during a sport game and she drew all the elements and a big black dot, next to which she wrote “horror”. I asked, what is this dot? And she replied that this is her trainer. Such feelings, she practicing another sport, she could only have had in 5-6 years, and maybe never. It was dependent on the circumstances, but also on her age and she did not cope with such an adult approach. And by the way, the approach of this particular trainer to the skaters, it really was a “horror”.
When should children have contact with a sport psychologist and why?
It depends on when the child starts “professional sport”. But the sooner we start the mental training, the less time we need to work on certain things. Because when we are adults, we are shaped, we can “cope” (in our own way) with different situations, when life has already taught us something, it is harder for us and we need more commitment and more time to achieve the same results than when we are younger.
Should parents educate themselves in sports psychology field?
I think this is crucial because the parent is closest to the child. It is the parent that knows the child best, the parent spends the most time with the child, for example, by driving to training, taking off from training. Often also being at training and giving guidance – which I personally think is not right. Let’s leave the field for the trainers here. But then the child comes to the parent, complains, or praises and wants to experience emotions together. And now how the parent will react to it, how the parent will “push” in the right direction, it also depends on what kind of knowledge the parent possesses. A parent often has a very good intention, has a huge heart and great emotions associated with it, but does it “technically” incorrectly and instead of giving good support, which builds, gives support, which unfortunately destroys. It can destroy self-confidence, it can destroy the skills of coping with stress, it can build additional external pressure, as well as the internal pressure of this player and then its performance is not as good as it could be.
Where to educate yourself?
I would recommend trainings and workshops conducted by specialists who have experience in this field. Of course, let’s read, learn, but one thing is to read something and the other thing is to implement it. We also need to train before we use the knowledge on our child.
What should an athlete’s ideal parent be like?
This is the parent who allows the child to choose the sport that the child wants to train. This is a parent who enjoys when the child wins, but also supports the child’s failures.A parent who allows the child to experience bad emotions, but is with the child and supports it. A parent who gives a fishing rod but not a fish. Really.This is a parent who plays sports and is an example. This is a parent who not only blindly supports, but supports and is interested in what a child does.
Is the consequence in raising a child good?
If you were a former volleyball player and would tell your your child’s to train volleyball, experience defeats and victories, just as you did – it would obviously be a consequence. But this is not the point, because your child has, for example, a different approach to this sport and loves karate.
If a child once agreed to play sports, do you have to consistently continue for twelve years? Definitely not.
What to do when the child wants to train and after some time he says that he does not like it anymore and now wants to train something else or does not want to train at all?
If the child does not want to train anything, it’s a bit worse, but if it wants to change the sport, because, for example, its friends are doing another sport, why not give him or her the opportunity to try another sport? Examples of the best Polish athletes, Olympic champions show that they experienced many sports in their childhood or youth.
And it is not like that if at some stage you will give up sport, for example football such decision will ruin your chances?
This is just amateur and very unprofessional thinking, because it could be said that “if a professional player has an injury that disables him for half a year, does that mean he will never be a good football player”?
For a good player not, but the one who has not yet achieved a high level of skills it is very likely probable.
And how do you know at what stage of development is this young football player and if he even takes a few months break, will he not come back to training with double strength, will be even more motivated, not only will “catch up”, but what is more will develop “additionally”. Isn‘t it that we (the adults) are afraid that he will not catch up, aren‘t these our ambitions? Maybe we want him to stay in this sport and be the best? Besides, I know examples of many athletes who had a break, for various reasons, those dependent on them and independent from them, returned after a long break to sports and then won the medals of the World Championships and the Olympic Games. These are good examples which would confirm the thesis that the break is not harmful. These are concerns of adults, not children.
How to motivate our unmotivated, resigned child?
Why is it unmotivated? Why does a child not want to do something? Why is there no motivation? For sports or for training?
From my observation, it seems that children today have no motivation and determination because they have everything given under their noses.
I will agree with this observation, but I will tell you that this is our the adults‘ fault because the children have everything today. They have everything served on a tray. They do not have to wait for anything, they expect that every weekend will be spent in a special way. There is no ordinary time. When receiving a gift , it has to be completely unique and we do not teach, as adults, that it has to be earned. So again we give a fish, and we do not give a fishing rod. Really, in my office recently, the first time I met with the young atlethe and his dad, who gave him a fishing rod, not a fish and I was so impressed that I just got stuck.
And from a practical point of view, how does this rod look like?
I will tell you what the meeting looked like. The father says to his son: “I found the specialist, I found the opinions, and now you have to decide if you want to continue these meetings and are able to get involved.” This is a fishing rod. And the fish looks like that: I recommend doing daily short exercises from the book, eg. for concentration, which the young player obviously needs, and I wait until the player declares his commitment and then the parent says and says that the child will not do it, because the child does not have time for it. He responses instead of the child, excuses the child, without giving the child time to make decisions and the chance to challenge itself. He decides for the child. He advises the child, does not give the child the opportunity to test itself in a situation that is safe. This approach, however, is very common. I also deal with such parents who are overprotective, who give a lot to the child, often forgetting about themselves. They do not learn at all, they do not develop their skills, they do not do anything with themselves. They are a bad example, and the child draws an example from us. On the other hand, when a child has no challenges at home, when he goes to the field and when colleagues check him there, then he can not handle it. Because then there is nothing given on the tray, no mother and dad who serve this tray.
How not to waste the talent? What to do when a talented child does not want to train?
It depends on why he does not want to train. This really is very important, because I may not want to train for a lot of reasons, which I will not mention here. It can be tired, it can just be so loaded with school and sport that it is too much. It may feel bad in a peer group, it may have a communication problem and you need to work on it. Maybe he has a coach with whom he does not get along, so in this situation, or somehow intervene and try to improve communication with the trainer or indeed in extreme cases, changing the club is the solution and suddenly turns out that in the new club the player feels great and wants . It is also the case that every player comes with a crisis and even in adulthood, the players do not want to train, have enough, are overworked, are tired, do not want to get up at 5 in the morning for training, which is at 6 in the morning. I think that we as adults would not like to do it, if we also had lessons, after the next training, and after the training, it’s time to, for example, do homework. So you must first consider why ?, what is the reason? I no longer have motivation. Looking at it from the perspective of “wasting” is the prospect of an adult, not a child. I do not understand why, we can not let the child try something else?
Because we think that we will lose something (we adults) and that is why we are egoists?
Very big egoists. This is our pressure, our ambition, our imagination of what the child is supposed to do. I know examples of athletes who practiced some kind of sport in elementary school, then parents pressed so much that the sport for the child became so ugly that the child left sport for many years, and then in the student age again returned to sport, had achievements and then became a coach in this sport. So, was it wasted or missed a chance?
And what exactly does it mean to waste a talent? I understand that someone has health problems and must leave sport. This is a real drama then. If, however, man wants to develop multi-directionally, why not let him do this. For a child, it is much better that it has many different stimuli from many different sources.
My point is that we can see that we have a super talented child in sports who stands out from the peers, and we know that if he will work hard and also likes this sport, he has a good chance of succeeding.
It is not known whether in 5 years it will also stand out, or peers will not grow faster and progress more. My question is rather: How not to kill this enthusiasm? Because the fact that we put a hard work on the child, the consequence is very burdensome and at a young age we can quickly lose this enthusiasm and then the motivation becomes an external motivation or motivation from the parent, we lose internal motivation as children, because we stop having fun out of it and on every occasion we get, we will simply resign from the sport with the consequence of everything and we will not care about it at all. It is the parent who will cry, he will feel disappointed, he will often require the psychotherapy and the child will be happy and released. I know many such cases.
So what to do so that it did not happen so that this internal fire did not dim?
It’s like asking what to do when we have a crisis time at work?
We want to relax.
And if you have had enough of this job, and would need a change of working environment, because the present working environment depresses you then what would you do?
Then I would change my job.
But you are an adult and you would be allowed to do it. And if someone is talented, let’s say physically, he can change his sport and he will also feel fantastic and great in another sport. There are many such examples in the sports that are not so popular. I can say that from my perspective, i.e. Curling, which I pratice. In this discipline, there are also people who play at the level of the Polish championships being adults, who always liked the sport but did not always found themselves in other disciplines and finally found something for themselves.
What is the definition of a good trainer (coach)?
Sets a sports‘ goal with the player. He builds communication between himself and the player or players if it is a team. The coach who turns on the player into the preparation proces because the more the player is aware of and has a sense of influence on what he does, the more the player is involved. Develops the inner motivation of the player. He is supportive. You can count on him.
What was the most difficult case of an athlete you met in your career?
I think these are cases related to parents and not athletes. Parents who have more ambition and desire are more involved than children. The greatest dramas that have occurred in my professional practice are dramas of parents whose children wanted to change or abandon sport.
What is better for a child: being a leader in a weaker team or being weaker in a better team?
Question whether this child wants to be a leader? Does everyone want to be a leader? Does each of us feel good being the best or feels better without having to be called leader.
I had a player who had a choice: go to a weaker club and play in a better position or sit on a bench in a better club. However here the question was whether he would play or not play. It was not about whether he would be good or bad. He had the ability to play in the weaker club. Was it building his self-confidence? Sure, those two situations could build his self-confidence, but he wanted to play and the opportunity to play was in this weaker club. This choice could build him physically and mentally enough to feel more confident and try later in the better team and avoid sitting on the bench.
But the decision should always come from the person concerned, ie the child?
Yes. If you were in a high school or college in an English language group. And now: you know English, say, at the middle level. You may be very good in a weak group, but we know that you will learn less or you may be middle or almost the weakest in the best group. Let’s assume that you will learn more there but you will feel worse there. What would you choose?
The second option.
That would be your choice and your friend would choose the first option.
To summarize you have to listen to the child and nothing can be done by force.
Exactly. What we do as adults by force it is our decision and I would leave the child the option and present the consequence of the decision. So: here are the possibilities and here are such possibilities and let the child also had time to discuss with us and think about it. If a child comes to us for advice, we can show him opportunities, but the decision should always be on the side of the child. We can always suggest something, help but this is the child, who by making its own decision, builds a sense of influence on the situation and it builds its self-confidence. When I am a child for whom the parent takes decisions, I have no sense of influence and in adulthood I have a problem with making the simplest decisions.
What would you like to add from yourself and what has not been raised so far?
That mental training is extremely important in sports as well as in school and personal development. The sooner we acquire these skills, the better we will manage in life. The more we develop, the richer people we are. There is no way we can not undergo stress. For example, a parent comes to me and asks the athlete not to be stressed. It is impossible. We as adults are also stressed. The point is to make this stress or emotions shorter and less intense but they will still exist. We must learn to deal with them. I encourage you to train your mind because in the modern world it is just as important as physical training.