A new nickname sports parents should give their kids
Professional athletes seem to reach a sort of pinnacle in their careers when they receive a nickname. Sometimes these monikers are simple — A-Rod, Air Jordan, A.I. Other times, they actually transcend their greatness, such as “Sweetness” (Walter Payton) or Mr. October (Reggie Jackson).So, when you hear the name Joey Erace, perhaps it’s odd that he’s fashionably known as “Joey Baseball.” He looks like a great ball player and has more than 50,000 followers on social media. The only issue is he’s class of 2025 — 11 years old.
Think about it: A pre-pubescent boy, who is 70 pounds, has a nickname that encapsulates his entire self-worth and identity. How do you describe your own kids to others?
Being immersed in youth sports, we hear many of these. Most are innocuous, but some of these are actually as toxic as a participation trophy.
“Perfect little Rachel.” That’s how this girl’s parents described and introduced their child, a high-school second baseman. Perfection is a pretty high expectation, and I was curious how long they had been calling her that. Unfortunately, she was not mentally tough, and it had little to do with her and more to do with expectations placed on her.
A study in 2002 from the Journal of Attitudes and Social Cognition examined people’s names and the impact on the careers they chose. The researchers found that people named Dennis were statistically more likely to become dentists. They contended that a phenomenon existed called “implicit egotism.” The words that we associate with our names can actually shape our decisions and identity. It doesn’t mean that every Lauren becomes a lawyer or every Dennis becomes a dentist, but merely that we gravitate toward the things and names that we associate with most.
How do you introduce and describe your kids? “There goes our little winner,” or “Here comes Johnny, our star goalie.”
Our kids are not always going to win, and young Johnny may not always be a star goalie. However, labeling our kids in this fashion creates unnecessary pressure for them to not fail. This breeds a mindset of athletes who live and die off of every performance because there identity is so wrapped up in avoiding failure. Do you honestly want your own children to associate their identity with their performance, something they do?
The best strategy we can take for becoming a better sport parent is to call them this: a competitor. We can compete in everything we do. We can compete in grades, paying attention and playing sports.
To define it in a healthy way for your child, emphasize that competition means against yourself, not anyone else. In this way, you teach your child not to compare themselves to others or high expectations. These comparisons and identity struggles often results in low self-esteem. Instead, call them a competitor.
Joey Baseball is probably a great kid, and he’ll probably play college baseball. But no one can accurately speculate how good a player will become until after puberty. The harsh reality is that the chances of him playing professional baseball are incredibly slim. It’s a lot like playing the lottery. So, be careful on the implicit labels that we call our kids.
Dr. Rob Bell is a mental toughness coach. His company, DRB & Associates, is based in Indianapolis. Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott and Walgreens. Check out his books.
Also check out his podcast, 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness, as he interviews expert athletes and coaches about mental strength and their hinge moment.