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Exam Disappointment

It's fair to say that this time of year, is a time when many young people (and their parents) may have to deal with disappointment, as the dreaded results are in. Obviously, we are talking about A-levels and GCSEs, which is not strictly sport, but what can sport teach us about dealing with disappointment and looking to the future which may help a few young people feeling pretty down about today's results?

A great deal of emphasis is placed on exam results in our society, and this heaps pressure on young people. Some young people deal well with the pressure and are good at exams, for others it's their worst nightmare and the future can seem bleak if the results are a shock, or even an inevitable disappointment. As a parent, you can be treading a fine line here – should you be angry? Should you be supportive? Should you blame the school? Should you blame your child?

Well, in reality, every young person is an individual so you need to stay calm and consider the situation carefully, for YOUR child and YOUR child alone and try to avoid unhelpful comparisons and unnecessary confrontation. Timing is everything, if there are hard lessons to be learned and difficult decisions to make, choosing your opportunity to initiate the discussion is an important factor. And if the wound of disappointment is fresh, you may need to give it a while.

Dealing with disappointment is commonplace for sports people, but how do they do it? And how might it apply? Here are a few things worth considering:

  • Is your child working in a system and to expectations and goals that just do not suit them and were never going to be realistic? Are these exam results an opportunity to take a different fork in the road and really look for a path that will play to your child's strengths and help to minimise their weaknesses. It's hard to thrive in lion school if you are a dolphin – change tack, go to dolphin school.

  • Did your child waste an opportunity here? Did they just not grasp the bull by the horns and get on with the revision? Were they sometimes a bit lazy or distracted and now the results are in, it's a tough pill to swallow? If this is the case, front it up, calmly and rationally. Or better still, ask the right questions that encourage your child to front it up. We've all done it, not prepared enough for something and then suffered the consequences, it's a very important life lesson to learn. So don't sugar coat it, don't shout about it either, just front it up and come up with a strategy for doing it better next time.

  • Is your child, or are you, trying to blame somebody else for these results? Is it the teacher or the school's fault? This is a difficult one, because I'm sure sometimes there are issues with the education system. If the whole class or the whole school have done unexpectedly badly, I would say get in touch with the school and start asking questions. If it seems to be just your child, perhaps blame isn't the way to go. By shifting the focus away from themselves it will make them feel better in the short term. But what is this teaching them about resilience? What are they learning about self reflection? How is this helping them to learn from mistakes and grow as a person? Play the blame game if you 100% genuinely believe there is an issue, otherwise accepting a mistake has been made is a much better strategy.

  • And lastly, never, never see this as a disaster. Many, many 16 and 18 year olds mess up their exams and go on to be successful and happy adults. They are usually the ones who (along with their parents) see it as a minor bump in the road and an opportunity to learn and to do better next time. Failure and mistakes are part of life and they help us to learn and to develop resilience and become our best selves, what more could you want for your child?

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