My son tried baseball for the first time this spring. He was in the youngest age group for the recreational league close to our home, but it was evident that some of the boys had played the year before or were at least more familiar with the game. My husband is not exactly Mr. Sportsball, and my son is surrounded on all sides by sisters, so he tends to go into athletic situations at a bit of a disadvantage. This, combined with his perfectionist nature, made for a very frustrated little boy after his first few practices and games. He wasn’t the only one frustrated. We could tell he had some natural ability, and his coaches were patient and helpful, but his attitude and negativity were making it a struggle for everyone involved. I didn’t like having to threaten or bribe or coerce him to go to practice; it felt counter-intuitive to pile more negative energy onto what was quickly becoming a dreaded part of the week for us all.
One afternoon as he was getting ready for a game, pouting and dragging his feet, telling me how bad he was at baseball, I pulled him into the bathroom with me and had him stand on a step stool to look at his own reflection. I told him to repeat what I said.
“I am smart.”
He looked questioningly at me, but repeated the words back dutifully.
“I am brave. I am strong. I am a good teammate.”
This last one brought him up short. It shocked and pained me to see the struggle on his little face. He didn’t believe those words. But whenever he resisted or rolled his eyes or argued, I just repeated the words until he said them to himself.
“I am in control of my attitude. I can listen to my coach. I will have a fun game today.”
Then to my surprise, he said “Ok, mommy. Now I’ll do you.”
“I’m a good mommy. Other people think I do a good job. I’m funny and nice.”
And suddenly I understood the struggle he had felt.
We all get so used to questioning and tearing ourselves down, that to voice positivity and praise about ourselves to ourselves feels odd and disingenuous. I felt my eyes fill with tears as I repeated back to him my own affirmations, the things he knew to be true that were challenging for me to see or believe.
He had a much better time at baseball that night, and the rest of the season saw marked improvement in both his skill and his outlook. We did continue affirmations on and off, and while I can’t credit them with all of his baseball success, I do think it was eye-opening for us both and something that we enjoy revisiting in moments of self-doubt or anxiety.