The film, Remember the Titans, tells an inspiring and uplifting tale of a sports team coming together and achieving the highest level of accomplishment against seemingly unprecedented odds. The team’s coach Herman Boone pushes the players farther than they could have imagined, by demanding they give more of themselves than ever before. On the first day of practice, he declares:
“When you put that uniform on, you better come to work. We will be perfect in every aspect of the game.”
Over the course of the season, the team comes to understand they’re not perfect, but by working together, they can be unbeatable.
It’s an incredible story of ambition, perseverance, teamwork, and so much more. In many ways, it’s what every coach hopes to do with their team each season.
Yet, when it comes specifically to the emphasis placed on the pursuit of perfection early in the movie, there are better examples out there, especially in regards to youth sports. Renowned sport psychologist Dr. Jerry Lynch has seen far too many young athletes who suffer from a constant obsession with perfection:
“Having such a lofty, unattainable goal positions them perfectly for failure. Yet frustratingly, they keep measuring their self-worth as athletes and people by outcomes and results, by winning and losing, by achievements and failures. Parents play a huge role in this malady because they believe, usually unconsciously or unintentionally, that they are better parents if their kids are perfect. Intellectually, a parent may know that perfection is not possible, yet they feel there is no harm in trying. As a result, I often find myself working with kids who are terribly disappointed in themselves, awfully frustrated, and often angry about not measuring up.”
Over time, these pressures sometimes lead to parents unintentionally withholding their love over poor performances, which strains their relationship and creates additional pressure for the athlete.
“I like to remind children that there are only two kinds of athletes: those who fail and those who will fail,” notes Lynch. “Even the greatest of the great are imperfect. Professional baseball hitters are considered great if they get a hit a third of the time. Professional basketball players are considered excellent if they make half of their shots from three-point range. If soccer players, on average, make one goal for every five shots they attempt, they are celebrated. All athletes fail, make mistakes, commit errors, and lose. Those who are the best always mean to do their best, they strive to be the best they can be, and this puts them in a position for good things to happen...but not perfect things.”
Parents play a key role in helping kids understand the difference between perfection and excellence. Sharing examples of failure in their own lives and how to react to it positively can help kids create a foundation of a growth mindset while also helping to reduce pressure and anxiety during competition.
Lynch encourages parents to remind themselves and their kids regularly that, “performance can never be perfect, since perfection is an illusion, an unattainable waste of time and energy. Instead, I will strive for excellence by simply doing and being my best.”
Editor’s Note: This is article is based on a Positive Coaching Alliance article on a book excerpt of “Let Them Play” by Dr. Jerry Lynch. Minnesota Hockey is a proud to partner with the Minnesota chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) to ensure all youth players in Minnesota have a positive athletic experience. The partnership provides grants of up to $1,000 for youth hockey associations in Minnesota for hosting a PCA workshop.