Mental Toughness and ‘The Imposter’ in Your Athlete

By Janis Meredith

Does your child struggle with mental toughness in sports? If so, it may be because the “The Imposter” is getting the credit. Let me explain.

If you ask your child to think of a recent peak moment, he will probably remember a time when everything went great and when he felt he was playing his A game. Every athlete has these mountaintop experiences. I remember some with my own kids: the match when my libero daughter had 37 digs, the football game when my son threw three touchdown passes and more than 300 yards, the softball game when my daughter hit a grand slam.

As Tommy Newberry writes in The 4:8 Principle, when kids have games like that, they may discount the experience and say it was good luck or lucky timing. That kind of thought process is actually giving credit to The Imposter.

The Imposter is the imaginary individual who, if your child lets him, hogs the credit for those best moments and achievements. He is an inner voice that tries to persuade your child that no matter what just happened, he’s not really that good and is more likely playing over his head. You aren’t really that good. You just got lucky.

But the opposite is actually true: Those peak moments, when your child feels he is playing over his head, are actually glimpses of his full potential, his real self.

Why not turn things upside down and consider that the volleyball match with 37 digs, the football game with three touchdown passes and the softball game with a grand slam are a direct result of who they really are?  Instead of giving The Imposter credit for your child’s best moments, what if he gave The Imposter credit for his worst moments?

When your child has success, instead of saying, “I’m not really that good. I just got lucky,” encourage your child to say when he has a bad game, “I’m not really that bad. I just didn’t have a good day.”

Unfortunately, our kids tend to distance themselves from their best moments, rationalizing them as exceptions, as luck. So when they have a bad day, they tend to overidentify with the experience and think, “I’m just not that good.”

How a champion deals with “The Imposter”

Champions have a bad day competing and shrug it off, attributing it to The Imposter:

“I know I’m not that bad. Just had a rough day.”

“Wow, that is so unlike me.”

“I’ll be playing my A game tomorrow.”

“That was NOT the real me playing. I’m better than that.”

The next time your child messes up on the field or court or just has a frustrating game, remind him that it must be The Imposter. He’s better than that; he had a bad game, he will do better tomorrow. And the next time he has a breakthrough and does well, encourage him to recognize that “Wow, I did that! I can do that! That was ME!”

 

This article, written by Janis Meredith, a sports parenting blogger, podcaster and parent coach, originally appeared on USA Football.com.  Click here to read the full article, or go to the USA Football website.