As parents and as coaches, we often understand that there's value in pursuing a goal, even when it seems unattainable. Every hero's journey encounters some moment of adversity, some chance that they won't reach their goal. And even losing out on a goal has value because it instills resilience.
But at some point, there's also value in pivoting and setting new goals. "In general, we only tell stories of perseverance,” notes TrueSport Expert, family physician, and resiliency guru Dr. Deborah Gilboa. “You hear about athletes who persevere through years of struggle, and finally succeed, but that can be a damaging perspective. To say that perseverance is always the answer, that perseverance towards achievement is always the best or right path, simply isn't true. Resilience means navigating change and coming through it as the kind of person you want to be. And if the only kind of person your child wants to be is a winner, that's a problem because then persevering towards achievement is the only option. And on that path, you have to recognize the risk of permanent damage."
Here, Gilboa shares the signs parents should look for to help an athlete decide when it's time to pivot.
1. Danger, not discomfort
Kids need to hone the skill of differentiating between danger and discomfort, says Gilboa. That means knowing if pursuit of a goal is uncomfortable, or if it could be harmful to their physical or mental health. "This is what Simone Biles showed at the Tokyo Games when she decided not to compete in certain events," Gilboa explains. "She wasn't dealing with tremendous discomfort. She was in danger. We ask and expect our young athletes to figure out how to manage discomfort, and yes, that will serve them incredibly well. The more discomfort they know how to manage successfully, the better. That will help them towards their goal. But if we do not teach them the skill of differentiating between tremendously uncomfortable and actually dangerous, then we do not allow them to protect their own safety."