“If only the ref gave us that call”

“If only the weather wasn’t wet”

“If only we were as fast as the other team”

Talk of “if its” – as in “if it had happened this way, it could have been different” – are an indicator that your team, athlete or child may be placing an over-emphasis on results, and be succumbing to a fixed mindset. They may not be allowing themselves the opportunity to frame those ‘if it’ moments as chances to develop and look for areas to improve or learn (we would call this having a growth mindset).

As leading researcher into motivation Carol Dweck talks about in, understanding the power of yet, having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset can have massively contrasting impacts on child development.

How can you help then?

Typically, ‘if its’ fall into two categories. Controllable ‘if its’ and Non-controllable ‘if its’.

Controllable ‘if its’, e.g. when a child makes a mistake, are perfect opportunities to promote a growth mindset towards learning and development, by acknowledging that mistakes are necessary for growth. One under-10 rugby coach we know uses the mantra “mistakes are great!” with his team.

These moments are also the time to focus on and praise effort and improvement, as oppose to the outcome. Also, if something didn’t go as planned, don’t forget what the power of yet can have on a child’s development.

Non-Controllable ‘if its’, e.g. when a ref makes a bad call, are great opportunities for teachable moments. These moments are times when great coaches and sport parents will frame lessons about resilience and focusing only on what you can control.

An ‘if it’ moment is the perfect opportunity to praise our kids on the effort that they put in instead. Along with providing the child with acknowledgement, it can guide the conversation, so you can help your child understand that with continual effort and trying, improvement will happen and those ‘if its’ will become a thing of the past.

Why does it matter?

Research shows worrying rates of drop off from sport as our children age. There is a magnitude of reason’s why, but frequent answers are linked stress, anxiety, increased emphasis on winning rather than participation and lack of intrinsic motivation and the desire to fulfill their goals.

The benefits of participation in sport range from enhancing long-term mental and physical health, learning social skills, improving motor skills to those things children themselves already recognise like enjoying themselves and making friends.

There are many flow-on effects for the family and community; from the experience mums and dads share with their children to the overall value of a healthier population. This only happens if kids continue to play sport, so focusing on creating positive fun sporting environments is crucial to keeping them active for longer and ensuring better long-term results for them and the community. And yes, centering the junior sport experience around a fun and positive experience even has long-term benefits for the small percentage of kids who eventually transition into elite sport.

The Good Sports Spine

Have a look at our Good Sports Spine, a tool we’ve created to help adults in children’s sport understand how they impact a child’s sporting experience and ultimately help adults help kids fall in love with sport for life.