For me, spring doesn’t begin in March or April. Spring begins when the air fills with the crack of the bat or the snap of a ball hitting a glove. It begins in February, when baseball spring training gets underway.
And I’m not just talking about professional baseball. As a parent, my real joy comes from watching Little Leaguers play. I can’t wait to root for my kids on the ball field.
What about you? Is one of your parental pleasures watching your children play organized sports? If so, what if your son or daughter is less enthused about playing than you are? Should you push them?
This is a question that I, as a father of two boys, struggle with all the time.
You may be thinking I’m probably one of those dads who want their kids to excel at sports. You know the kind — a parent, with the best of intentions, who pushes their kids to compete in a sport just because that’s the sport dad played and enjoyed so much. Or worse, a dad who shouts from the sidelines and complains to the coach that junior doesn’t get enough playing time.
Actually, I’m not that kind of parent. As a young child, I dreaded team sports. I realized firsthand how humiliating it can be to strike out three times in front of everyone, or to have that fly ball sail over your head in the outfield. Fortunately, my parents recognized my fears and didn’t force me to play. I only took up team sports later, after I had matured and acquired the confidence to compete.
I think most of us agree that for kids who are anxious about playing on teams, it’s best not to push. Instead, channel their energies toward individual sports such as tennis, golf or martial arts, or perhaps into non-sporting activities such as art, music, writing or acting, where they can gain confidence and, more importantly, have stress-free fun.
But what about children who have an interest in team sports, but are reluctant or unsure? Wouldn’t a little pushing be a good thing? After all, kids won’t know whether they’ll like a sport, or even be good at it, until they try.
I believe there’s an important difference between pushing children to excel at sports, and pushing them to try.
My strategy has always been to first ask my sons if they’re interested in playing a particular sport (or for that matter, any new activity). We talk about whether their friends are playing, what they like or dislike about the sport and how much time playing will take away from other activities they want or have to do (e.g., school work!). I try to keep the conversation positive, non-pressured and geared to what’s important to them, not me. If they’re interested but still undecided or hesitant, only then do I encourage my sons to try their hand at playing that particular sport.
I think a little nudge from mom or dad is sometimes necessary and helpful. According to Dr. Jim Taylor, the author of Positive Pushing, children don’t like discomfort. With any new activity outside their comfort zone, they’ll often put forward effort until it gets difficult or challenging. Then they’ll look to others, often parents, to see whether they’ve done enough and can quit. While Dr. Taylor acknowledges that if children are pushed too hard, they may rebel and fail to achieve, he also says that if parents don’t push enough, kids may become self-satisfied and unmotivated.
That’s been my experience. I have a suspicion that if my sons aren’t pushed to try new things now and then, they might instead spend their entire day playing video games. Moreover, if my kids decide they want to try a sport, I insist they commit to finishing the entire season. If they want to give the sport up after the season is over, that’s OK. But I don’t want them to get in the habit of quitting on their teammates in mid-season or giving up when the activity becomes more strenuous or demanding.
Besides, the benefits of playing sports are immense. Team sports promote confidence, camaraderie, and a healthy and active lifestyle. Studies show that kids who play sports are less likely to become obese, abuse drugs or alcohol or to perform poorly in school. Learning to compete prepares a child for the demands of teenage and adult life, including the ability to cope with both success and failure.
Every child is different, but if you agree that a gentle paternal nudge helps from time to time, consider these strategies to reduce your child’s anxiety about playing team sports for the first time:
• Get your kids used to the idea of playing an organized sport and being part of a team. Let them watch a game or a practice. Take them to the ball field a week or so before their own practice begins and walk with them around the field. Or let them wear their uniform or sports shoes around the house so they’ll get excited about being a team player.
• Consider a little instruction before the season to help your child get up to speed. I strongly recommend that this coaching not come from mom or dad, but from another adult, preferably a coach. Kids will listen more intently to, and try harder for, just about anyone other than a parent. Many leagues offer off-season clinics at little or no cost to families. Another option is try a one-on-one lesson, or better yet, a group lesson with a small circle of friends, to give your kids a confidence boost in their playing skills.
• Keep the pressure off your child by never coaching from the sidelines. I’m always tempted to shout out a few tips to my sons because, after all, don’t I know my boys best and how to help them? Fight this well-intentioned but misguided impulse. There can only be one coach on a team, and yelling out conflicting or distracting instructions from the sidelines will only heap more stress and confusion on your child.
• To give you and your child peace of mind, ask about the safety procedures the league follows. A child’s developing reflexes, coordination and reaction time might not make them ready for advanced play. Enrollment in leagues is mostly age-based, but you still may have options between, for example, having your child play T-ball rather than machine or coach-pitched baseball. Using the right equipment is also essential. In baseball, for instance, does your league use or require soft-strike baseballs, mouth guards, non-composite bats and helmets for pitchers as well as for hitters and catchers?
• Finally, do your part in making sports a positive, fun experience for your children. Rather than critiquing their performance after each game, ask them what they thought about the event and how they did. Focus on how hard they tried rather than specific results. And, of course, show up for games whenever you can, understand their challenges, and celebrate their improvements and triumphs, win or lose.
Hopefully, if you consider these strategies, both you and your kids will be ready this spring to PLAY BALL!
As a parent of two teenage boys, like most sports parents, I deal with the balancing act of wondering what are the best ways of motivating kids in sports. Do you let go and let god? Do you give an encouraging push? Or do you get tough on them so that they will get tough on themselves?
These questions apply to all aspects of raising children really; not just athletes.
As my kids get older it is getting less and less of a choice to let go, because they are busy asserting their independence and I am working hard to maintain a good relationship with them.
We wanted to get an expert in the area, Janis Meredith, who’s been a coach’s wife for 29 years and sports parent for 20, to weigh in on how to motivate kids without being too pushy.
We all want to see our kids succeed. And sometimes, without meaning to, we push just a bit too hard.
You see it happen all the time in youth sports. And the older kids get, the more they are likely to resist parental pushiness.
There are ways to motivate your child without being pushy. It takes a little more restraint, and a bit more work, but it will help you maintain an easier relationship with your young athlete.
Ask the right question after practice or games. Notice I said question, not questions.
How did practice go? or How did you feel about your game tonight?
One question shows your interest and gives them a chance to say as much or as little as they want. It indicates that you care and want to know how they are doing. Too many questions can make them feel like you are pressuring them.
Offer opportunities for them to work outside of practice. Offer, not push or demand.
Iʼll drive you to the gym if youʼd like to work out. Would you like to go to a speed training camp?
Iʼll be glad to check out traveling teams if youʼd like to play.
If they say no, then drop it, and maybe bring it up again at another time when they express a desire to improve their skills.
Be at as many games as you possibly can. Itʼs understandable if you canʼt be at every one, but the more you are present at your childʼs games, the more you communicate your support. Your presence may push him to work harder and play his best.
Notice, and offer casual praise for his hard work. You may be jumping up and down inside that your kid is pushing himself and working hard, but you gotta keep your cool, especially if we are talking about adolescents.
If your praise is too effusive, he may be embarrassed or annoyed or if heʼs in those contrary years, he may figure that if heʼs pleasing you too much, then maybe he doesn’t want to work so hard.
A simple, hey, nice job tonight! or I really liked the way you played aggressively this afternoon, or I can definitely see that youʼve been working hard at practice will communicate your support and interest without sounding like your love and approval is attached to his performance.
Let him bask in and enjoy his good games, points scored, games won. Reinforce the fact that he worked hard and it paid off. When kids see that their hard work does pay off, they are more likely to push themselves, with very little help from you.
There is no magical age when a kid starts really pushing himself.
It varies with each athlete. Iʼve seen 10-year-olds with amazing drive and seniors in high school that finally peaked in their desire.
Being a self motivator is a valuable life lesson for your child to learn; it comes in handy later in life.
If you help motivate your kids in sports without being pushy, he will feel responsible for his own success.
Has your child lost the motivation to play sports? It happens all the time with older athletes, and that’s when mental toughness is truly tested.
But what about younger children? We can’t expect them to have the mental fortitude to continue working hard without motivation. Here’s some ways to keep them interested:
- Let them pick. Allow your child choose a sport he enjoys – even if it’s not football. It’s easier for children to be motivated when they enjoy the activity.
- Watch others. Take your child to see others play the sport. Take children to pro and college games, if you can, but more importantly, take them to sporting events involving their peers and the levels just above them. Let the child see people having fun as they play.
- Read and watch. Get books at rent movies about sports with your child. Often, children are interested in what they are familiar with and as they learn more about a sport, it might pique their interest to start or continue playing.
- Play with your child. Not just to teach skills but to just have fun. You don’t always have to be coaching your child on how to tackle or kick. Sometimes, it’s better to be silly with them and let them experience the fun of sports with you.
- Praise efforts, not results. If you want to offer a reward for good effort, that’s up to you. If you do, make it an experience with them — a special outing, play their favorite game, etc., not a material one.
- Mix it up. Choose a new sport and learn it together with your child.
- Familiar faces. Look for opportunities for them to play on teams with their friends.
- Take a break. Give them plenty of free time to follow their own interests outside of sports. Too much emphasis on playing sports at a young age can put children on the early path to sports burnout.
- Make it a family event. Plan an active outing to play a game of family softball, touch football or whatever your family likes. Invite other friends and family along to make it even more fun.
As parents, we can’t make our kids care as much as we do about any specific thing, but we can provide plenty of opportunities for them to catch the bug.
Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has recently launched a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
The desire to see young athletes do well is usually what motivates sports parents to get into a pushing groove. No mom or dad enjoys seeing a child sit too long on the bench or play below his or her potential in the game. Watching your child give a half-hearted effort is frustrating. Whether it’s in school, sports, or chores, parents are always looking for answers on how to help their kids “try harder.”
There is no magic pill for motivation, but the first step is to recognize that a lack of motivation is probably related to the fact that your child is either discouraged or is not enjoying the sport.
Once you recognize that a lack of trying is always related to something deeper, you can begin to get to the root of the problem and start pushing your child in positive ways.
You see, not all pushing is bad. In fact, I would say that positive pushing can be very beneficial for your child. The difference between positive pushing and the negative pushing that parents tend to resort to in frustration is huge.
Negative pushing uses tactics like comparison, bribery, shaming and nagging. Positive pushing, or constructive pushing, looks much different:
1. Ask the right question after practices or games. How did practice go? How did you feel about your game tonight? One or two questions show your interest, while too many can feel like you are pressuring your athlete.
2. Offer opportunities for your young athlete to work outside of practice. If your young athlete says no, drop it and bring it up at another time when he or she is ready to work on improving.
3. Be at as many games as you can. It communicates your support and may encourage young athletes to push themselves.
4. Offer praise for hard work. It communicates support without attaching your love to his or her performance.
5. Let your young athlete bask in and enjoy good games, points scored and games won. When hard work pays off, he or she will be motivated to push harder.
6. Don’t let your anxiety push your young athlete. That will motivate him or her to perform just to make you happy. It only teaches them how to appease you. Also, it distracts your young athlete from finding internal motivation.
7. Let your young athlete make his or her own choices. If it’s a poor choice, let them face natural consequences. This is probably one of the most powerful teachers of all. If your young athlete doesn’t get much playing time because he or she chooses to be lazy in practice, then so be it. But if your young athlete works hard and reaps the benefits, it motivates him or her to keep working hard.
8. Ask your young athlete the right questions. What do you really want? What is your goal in this sport? What makes you want to work harder? When he or she talks, listen well. Respect the answers, even if you don’t like them. Allowing your young athlete to have his or her own goals and desires builds confidence, which is a big motivator to do one’s best.
Whatever you do, don’t blame yourself for your child’s lack of motivation. His or her athletic performance does not define you. Your young athlete’s success does not make you a super-parent. His or her mistakes should not make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Instead, zoom out. See your child as their own person and strive to understand what he or she really wants and needs. This will help you see what truly motivates your young athlete and may require some parental experimentation. Remember this: Positive pushing is more of an art form, not an exact science.
Physical activity is good for children’s bodies. It promotes growth and development and should be encouraged throughout the day for younger children (ages 3 to 5). At least 60 minutes of activity a day helps older children and adolescents grow strong bones and muscles, build endurance and maintain a healthy weight. There’s mounting evidence that moderate to vigorous physical activity also helps boost children’s critical thinking skills, grade point averages and standardized test scores.
Plan time in your schedule for your children to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, which can accumulate with shorter chunks throughout the day. Remember to praise, reward and encourage your kids’ physical activity.
For healthy lifestyles, children need both free play and specific instruction on physical skills. An easy way for kids to meet this goal is by participating in physical education as part of the school day, when kids are in school. During times when children are at home because school is out or cancelled, block off a certain time everyday for your kids to engage in physical activity, similar to what would be done in school. The best physical education is age appropriate and fun.
Adults or kids can organize active play. There are active indoor games such as Simon Says, and dozens of games to play outside — hopscotch, jump rope, dodge ball, Frisbee golf, badminton and volleyball. Depending on the season, plan trips to a local bowling alley, swimming pool or skating rink when those options are available.
Make Fitness Part of Your Child’s Day
When school is in session, if your children can walk or bike to and from school, they will get many of the physical and mental benefits of being active, while you save on trips to the gas station. When school is not in session, walk or bike with your kids when you can and organize family walking or bicycling trips around the block.
Make Screen Time an Active Time
When going to play outside isn’t an option, your children can play interactive video games that require physical activity such as tennis, bowling or baseball. You also can use dance videos and active video games for some physically-active television time.
Get Help With Household Chores
Encourage your children to participate in active outdoor chores such as raking leaves, pulling weeds, watering plants, sweeping the walks or cleaning the garage. Make the chores feel fun with upbeat music and be sure to join in to get them done as a family.
Be an Active Role Model
Present physical activity as an important time to take care of your body and health, rather than a chore. Find activities you enjoy and be active for at least 30 minutes five days a week. When your children see that you are enjoying time being active, they will be more likely to model your behavior.
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a Chicago-based author and owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC, which provides nutrition programs for athletes.
W hen my twin boys began their first high school lacrosse season last week, I took a few minutes to rewind my mind’s highlight reel to relive my kids’ days playing pee-wee this or that—the high-fives, the hustle plays, and the little moments that only parents can remember.
Even with all the good that can come from watching our kids compete, we sideline-squatters know that the mood of a youth sporting event can morph from pure to toxic in less time than it takes to yell “C’mon, Zebra, stop the home-cooking!”
So when David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, visited the University of Florida recently as part of our Science Journalist in Residence program, I was anxious to hear him talk about what sports science tells us we get wrong when it comes to youth sports. Epstein spoke to classes, public groups, faculty members and others about the relationship between hardware (our genetics) and software (our training). During Epstein’s visit, I sat down with him to ask about the adjustments that parents, coaches and even our kids can make as they develop as athletes.
For Parents: More Play, Less Pressure
Perhaps because they think that focusing on one sport will get their kids on a college coach’s radar, many parents push for year-round specialization. Besides the risk of overuse injury, that approach also means your child is less likely to find the sport that he or she loves—and is good at. A better strategy: Encouraging your kids to experiment.
“Diversification doesn’t just mean playing multiple sports,” Epstein says, “but it’s also allowing a playful environment where implicit learning happens.” Epstein likes the “learn like a baby” model of sports development. A baby learns language skills by babbling and playing with no fear of failure, he says. Once the early skills are learned implicitly, that’s when you can start teaching the rules of grammar. In today’s sports culture, Epstein says, we’re teaching the grammar before our kids are implicitly learning and playing with basic athletic skills. “What the sports science suggests we’re doing for kids in sports is that we’re doing it backwards,” he says.
Epstein points to UCLA data that shows athletes on college scholarship don’t specialize in one sport until the average age of 15.4, while high school athletes on college club-level teams specialized at the age of 14.2. That data suggests that diversifying is linked to higher skill levels as the athlete ages.
“If a kid is a quick biological maturer, that’s different than them being the next LeBron James,” Epstein says. “The path that most elite athletes travel is the Roger Federer path, his parents forcing him to play basketball, badminton and soccer, not the Tiger path. That’s an exception.”
For Coaches: Clap, Don’t Correct
In one discussion Epstein was having on campus, he mentioned that positive feedback is linked to higher performance. He cited research by sports psychologist Christian Cook in which subjects performed better and were less likely to repeat mistakes when they were given positive feedback (as testosterone increased).
“I don’t know if it’s counterintuitive that positive feedback works, but it’s not the intuitive way for [coaches] to act,” Epstein says, explaining that coaches naturally identify what’s wrong and instruct athletes how to improve.
“If you had to choose between needing feedback when we did something wrong or when we did something right, I’m convinced now it’s when we did something right. And that’s when people don’t give feedback,” he says. “They pay attention to what’s wrong.”
For Kids: Play, Then Think
One trait that seems to be a hallmark for high-level performers: reflection. The athletes who reflect on their performance are able to self-evaluate what they can do better. This is largely based on the work by Marije Elferink-Gemser of the Netherlands, who believes that reflection (while more natural for some kids than others) can be taught, Epstein says. One way: By encouraging young athletes to ask themselves questions that will facilitate that kind of thinking. What did I do well? What didn’t I do well? Who are the people who can help me get there? “[Elferink-Gemser] is moving to saying the single most important role of the coach is facilitating the role of examining weakness and looking at remediating them, in that athletes are orchestrators of their own development, especially as they all get better and better,” Epstein says.
Only six out of 10 children aged between five and 14 years participate in sport outside of school, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Australian Health Survey conducted in April 2012 found that 25 per cent of Australian children and teenagers, aged five to 17 years, are overweight or obese, indicating that we need to foster a more sports-minded culture that encourages children to be physically active.
People who are active dramatically reduce their risk of many diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis. Regular exercise is also known to reduce the risk of emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. Habits are established early in life and evidence suggests that physically active children are more likely to mature into physically active adults.
Benefits of sport for children
- reduced risk of obesity
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons
- improved coordination and balance
- a greater ability to physically relax and, therefore, avoid the complications of chronic muscular tension (such as headache or back ache)
- improved sleep
- mental health benefits, such as greater confidence
- improved social skills
- improved personal skills, including cooperation and leadership.
Sedentary pursuits and children
- computer games
- internet use
- ‘Children and young people should participate in at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day.’
- ‘Children and young people should not spend more than two hours a day using electronic media for entertainment (such as computer games, internet, TV), particularly during daylight hours.’
According to the Bureau of Statistics, over the 12 months prior to April 2012 in Australia, 1.7 million or 60 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 years participated in at least one sport outside of school hours that had been organised by a school, club or association.
Participation amongst boys (949,000) exceeded that of girls (727,000), both overall and within each age group category. Children aged 9 to 11 years were most likely to participate in sport (66 per cent).
The three most popular organised sports for boys in 2011 to 2012 were soccer (22 per cent of total), swimming and Australian rules football. For girls, swimming/diving (19 per cent of total) and netball were predominant.
Physical activity is crucial for kids. Not only is it one of the best ways to fight against America’s serious childhood obesity epidemic, but getting one or more hours of physical activity per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can help promote a lifetime of health and well-being.
Luckily, most kids have a natural urge to play — and signing them up for sports is a great way to harness all of that natural energy and transform it into something even greater.
“The importance of physical activity for children is undeniable, and frankly it’s negligent when children are not given the opportunity to engage in this invaluable resource in life,” says Michelle M. Miller, founder of My First Workout in Tallahassee, Florida.
From T-ball to gymnastics, organized kids sports can benefit children in all five key developmental areas: physical, emotional, social, cognitive and moral. Miller cites benefits that include:
Improved critical thinking skills.
An increased awareness of right and wrong.
Providing a foundation for fitness
So where do you come in? When it comes to youth sports, parents are so much more than carpool drivers. It’s up to you to help your children choose not only age- and personality-appropriate sports, but to help set a foundation for fitness from a young age.
“Take very young children to playgrounds and let them play, and teach older children body weight and basic weight-training exercises and easy forms of cardiovascular activity, such as walking, swimming or riding a bike,” Miller says. “When this type of foundation is laid for a child, the chances of them wanting to take their fitness to the next level by joining a sports team is so much greater.”
Best sports for kids under 5
Most parents of preschool-aged children can confirm they have a seemingly endless supply of energy. They love to run, jump and play, but they’re still refining skills like hand-eye coordination and the ability to follow rules. Kids in this age group tend to benefit most from activities that help build fundamental gross motor skills.
For this age group, Miller also suggests leaning toward activities that:
Are not overly structured, time-involved or complicated.
Help build self-control, body awareness and self-confidence — skills that will come in handy if and when the child is ready for organized sports.
“These are the years parental coaching through encouragement, mental programming, support and leading by example become the foundation for a lifetime of activity and improve the chances that children will want to play a sport later on,” Miller says.
Some fun starter sports for children under the age of 5 that Miller recommends include:
“Swimming and biking can be taught by a parent at home, and once the few items needed are purchased, these can be the most inexpensive forms of physical activity preferably done on a daily basis,” Miller says, noting that parents must be confident in their own skills and safety before teaching their kids.
She also suggests community gymnastics and soccer leagues.
“The fundamental skills in these sports are not as complicated as other sports, which make them perfect picks for kids who are experiencing sports for the first time,” she says. “Mastering a new skill that is age-appropriate will enhance confidence and motivate them to keep going.”
Dr. Natasha Trentacosta, a pediatric and adult sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, recommends martial arts for young children.
“From a physical standpoint, any individual can learn the moves and advance at their own pace,” she says. “It fosters body control and awareness and improves movement quality. From a psychological standpoint, it encourages discipline, commitment and control.”
Rebekah Springs, a Portland, Oregon-based licensed marriage and family therapist, recommends activities like gymnastics for the preschool set.
“It provides even very young children with a sense of mastery and confidence in their body, and kids who are confident in their bodies also begin to become more confident in social skills, academics and planning ahead,” Springs says. “So it’s an all-around benefit!”
Whatever sport you choose for beginners, try to keep the pressure low. Springs cautions parents against expecting too much from children in their early years.
“At this age, your child may not be developmentally ready to enjoy organized sports,” she says. “So if they say they hate soccer, or spend T-ball picking flowers, don’t worry! This doesn’t mean your child isn’t into sports — they just may not be ready.”
Best sports for kids ages 5-12
Children’s physical abilities will continue to develop as they age, and so will their individual interests. At this stage, it’s a great idea to let them explore various activities while helping to guide them toward sports that are most suitable for their age, personality and abilities, as well as factors like your family’s time and budget.
“For school-age children, sports provide a physical outlet, a model for healthy competition and teamwork and a sense of mastery and identity,” Springs says.
It’s not uncommon for kids in this age range to get frustrated by a challenging sport and want to quit, which is why it’s so important to help them select activities that suit them. Choosing an activity that is inappropriate for their age or abilities may result in boredom or a loss of interest. Parents can help their kids stay engaged by guiding them to activities that they can feel successful doing.
Many kids and teens are crippled by a fear of failure or embarrassment. Some young athletes may worry about impressing a coach or parent, while others sabotage their performance due to a lack of confidence.
Overcoming these mental setbacks can help an athlete have a better experience at tryouts. Here are seven tips to help kids perform their best.
Let Go of Fear
In sports, athletes may be afraid of getting hurt, or they may experience psychological fear based on their perception of the importance of their performance.
Most of the time, athletes worry about poor results or negative outcomes (losing a game or not making the team). Kids sometimes fear the negative consequences of their performance and worry about aspects of the game that they can’t control.
The first step to overcome this fear is to identify the concerns and expectations that can change the way an athlete performs. When a child or teen feels fearful, it can cause him or her to be overly cautious or timid.
Help your kids identify their fears and reassure them that you’ll be proud of them for their effort regardless of the final outcome.
Play Hard, Don’t Hold Back
During mental toughness training, I teach my students about two mindsets that contribute to success in sports. The first is the training or practice mindset. Great athletes know the value of training, and they constantly strive to improve. They have a strong work ethic and a tremendous amount of motivation, which helps them practice hard to master their skills.
The second aspect is the trusting or performance mindset, and it’s equally important to be successful in sports. Trust is the ability to let things happen instinctively and rely on practice instead of consciously directing movements. The performance mindset gives an athlete the ability to rely on training and allow their skills to flow without excess thought.
The bottom line: Encourage your kids to practice so they can improve, build confidence, and rely on their training to help them perform intuitively.
Don’t Be Intimidated
Although some athletes purposely try to play head games or intimidate an opponent, the majority of intimidation in youth sports is self-induced.
The level of competition, a particular venue or big event like tryouts, can cause a young athlete to feel intimidated. Also, kids who lack confidence often look to others to help them feel self-assured. These same athletes, however, can intimidate themselves by paying too much attention to others. Most self-induced intimidation comes from an athlete giving too much energy to other competitors, making comparisons, or doubting their own ability.
Remind your son or daughter not to worry about other competitors. Encourage them to have faith in their own abilities and to always try their best.
Perform for Yourself
A lot of performance anxiety stems from the need to seek social approval from others. If this sounds like your son or daughter, he or she might feel the need to be liked, admired, accepted or respected. Your child may worry about performing poorly and think this will have a negative influence on what others think.
Athletes who seek external approval and validation have a tendency to be fearful or anxious. The need for social approval is the root of the fear of failure. This is the case for many of the students that I work with; athletes look to others for approval so they can feel better about themselves.
If you can help your kids understand why they value (sometimes too much) others’ opinions, you can help them develop self-respect instead of relying on external acknowledgement.
Don’t Try to Be Perfect
An important lesson I teach my students is to learn how to perform efficiently instead of perfectly. I call this a functional mindset.
A functional mindset begins with the idea that an athlete doesn’t have to be perfect to perform their best. Athletes are human, and humans can’t be perfect. Kids need to understand that mistakes are inevitable; they’re a part of sports and can often serve as important learning opportunities.
My definition of self-confidence is how firmly an athlete believes in his or her ability to perform a task or execute a skill. Confidence is derived from a baseline assessment of past performance, training and preparation. As an athlete’s skills improve, his or her confidence becomes proportionately stronger.
Confidence can be a cure-all for the mental setbacks an athlete may encounter. If a child or teen has high self-confidence, they’re less likely to get anxious or nervous because they believe they will perform well. An athlete with confidence can remain relaxed and focused rather than worrying about the competition or a negative outcome.
Some athletes start doubting themselves before they even begin tryouts. They may struggle with doubt due to a past performance or mistake; this can sabotage an athlete’s confidence.
It’s important for you as a parent to help your child learn from their mistakes rather than dwelling on them. The first step to overcome self-doubt is to be aware of the thoughts that can affect confidence. The next step is to counter the doubts with positive thoughts that can lead to a better outcome.
Focus on the Process, Not the Results
This mental technique is helpful when athletes compete, but only if they focus their attention on “performance cues” which help them play their best. A performance cue is any thought, feeling or image that helps an athlete execute a skill.
Many of the athletes I work with tend to overload their brains with too much information–more than they can handle at one time. Information overload sends mixed signals to the body. In this state, the body can’t execute at its full potential.
Once an athlete defines performance cues, he or she will be able to eliminate distractions and be more focused–an important quality to be stay present and be “in the zone” in sports.