This post was most recently updated on July 25th, 2018
These days, it can be really hard to know how to best parent your athlete in a way that will help them reach their full potential…
Parental “Pressure Cooker”
It seems that more and more of our focus has shifted to performance outcomes and pushing kids to excel in sports, rather than ensuring that they are having fun. Signs that your child may be being pushed too hard in sport: 1) they express to you, peers, or coaches that they are no longer having fun, 2) they report that they no longer want to compete or participate in the sport, 3) they seem to have lost motivation (e.g., to attend practice or work hard), or 4) they display increased anxiety about participating in sport. Creating a healthy balance between having fun and focusing on improvement and success in and out of sport should be the goal for kids.
Assess the coach and the sport environment and make sure both sufficiently support/encourage your child in a way that fosters life skills and overall positive development, rather than solely emphasizing winning. Youth coaches who over-stress winning are at greater risk of neglecting a young athlete’s personal development and not prioritizing their emotional best interests. Youth athletes who drop out or burnout of sport will more often report that they perceived their coach to be controlling, too focused on winning, and not very encouraging. Look for coaches who provide appropriate reinforcement and praise, encouragement after mistakes, and quality instruction.
Parents can play a huge role in creating a beneficial sport environment for their children! Kids are more prone to burnout when their parents criticize their sport performance and have exceedingly high expectations for them. Numerous studies demonstrate that children who perceive support, encouragement, and less pressure from parents, exhibit more internal motivation, sport enjoyment, and a preference to be challenged.
Compare & Despair
Most athletes–especially teenagers–naturally compare themselves to their peers. Many parents do the same with their children. This behavior is normal. However, communicating comparisons to your child may cause them to feel defeated, “less than,” or as though they have disappointed others. Comparing is easy to do, yet it is rarely motivating/helpful for athletes when it comes from parents.
Put Mistakes into Perspective
Very simply, be supportive of your athlete’s effort and point out aspects of the performance that you were proud of or areas they improved in. Emphasize that wins/losses are not a reflection of them as a person (i.e. what they do is not reflective of who they are), but just a measure of performance for any given moment. Many aspects of both winning and losing are actually out of our control. Elements such as skill level of the competition, equipment, coaches’ decisions, and injury are out of an athlete’s control, yet contribute to whether they win or lose. Emphasize the importance of focusing on those aspects they have control over–such as preparation, effort, concentration, confidence, and skill–and use these as a measure of improvement/performance. Show your athlete that you value these over winning or scoring high. Help them focus on the process versus the outcome! Dealing with adversity can be positive in that it can help shape an athlete’s mindset for future competitions, such as building resiliency, learning from mistakes, and learning to cope with frustration.
In summary, here’s some key points to help positively parent a youth athlete:
1. Creating a healthy balance between having fun and focusing on improvement and success in and out of sport should be the goal for kids.
2. Look for coaches who provide appropriate reinforcement and praise, encouragement after mistakes, and quality instruction.
3. Kids are more prone to burnout when their parents criticize their sport performance and have exceedingly high expectations for them.
4. Comparing is easy to do, yet it is rarely motivating/helpful for athletes when it comes from parents.
5. Help youth athletes focuso n the process versus the outcome