I am currently working as an aid in a special education elementary school classroom. The children I work with are between 8-12 years old and have behavioral issues or learning difficulties. Today I was working one on one with a little boy who really struggles with math. He gets frantic and starts to guess at the numbers, function signs, and eventually answers. Numbers just come chaotically flying out of his mouth with no real reasoning behind them. For example, when asked what 6 minus 5 equals, his first instinct is to shout out “7”, then “2”. And so on. Everything he does is a guess. He never takes a moment to allow his brain to process the numbers and give a well thought out answer. I quickly noticed this, and my sports psychology training instantly kicked in.
I took a moment, told him to take a deep breath and really look at the numbers we were dealing with. After a few deep breathes, he blurted out, “I can’t.” “I don’t know.” I then made him practice some positive self-talk. Out loud I had him say, “I can do this.” “I know my numbers.” After repeating these mantras a few times, and deeply breathing, he began to read the problem out loud correctly. He slowly read the numbers and grabbed his counting chart. He correctly identified the numbers in the problem, and which way to move on his chart for subtraction. He looked up after he counted, and said, “1?”. I then said, “Do you think you did the problem correctly?”. He said, “yes”. I said, “So tell me confidently you know the answer is 1.” He then proudly said, “1!”.
We then went on to do 15 minutes of solid relaxed math and he began to learn rather than guess. It’s a moment that will forever resonate with me, and further my belief in the power of Sports Psychology.
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