I read a fascinating article in the Boston Globe Magazine last weekend in which Amy Baltzell, who directs the sports psychology graduate program at Boston University, gives advice on how to pep talk your kids. Already finding myself fumbling through these types of conversations with my own kids, I was instantly interested because who doesn't want to help their kids do their best in an event? In general, Ms. Baltzell's guidance is to first ask your daughter how she's feeling and normalize it by telling her it's totally normal to be nervous, scared, etc. Next you review what practice and preparation she's done already. This focuses on your child's efforts (studying, practicing) instead of results (winning, succeeding) which helps her develop a growth mindset to believe her potential to improve and succeed. Then inquire about specific things she's nervous about and what tricks she uses to help her. This warms her brain up for the task ahead and is priming her for success. Finally, you tell her to keep things in perspective and at the end of day you love her no matter how things turns out.
I tried these steps in a small way yesterday when my 5-year old told me she was scared to go to soccer practice because she'd missed the previous week's practice. I immediately thought of this article and said, "That's totally normal to feel nervous." Next I reminded her that all of the running and playing she'd been doing during her time off will serve her well. Then I asked her what moves she remembered from last soccer practice and she immediately started listing them off. I didn't ask her what she's specifically nervous about because I could already hear the confidence rising in her voice. She ended up having a super practice!