In my research and more importantly in my practice I aspire to educate parents about parenting and sports. Some critical ideas I strive to communicate include:
1. Establish open lines of communication with your sports children. Encourage them to talk about their successes, because more often than not they are achieving success.
2. Incorporate the 5-1 rule when talking to sports children about their performance. Encourage them, and then reinforce the Top 5 Performance Skills Successes they excelled at today. The second step is to identify (1) performance skill they might work to improve before the next competition. Reinforce the successes by writing them down and track them over time.
2. Understand their goals and dreams, give them guidance, but let them have their own goals and support those goals not yours. Help them by making sure their goals are achievable. If they achieve success incrementally they are more likely to continue to achieve and enjoy what they are doing. If they enjoy what they are doing there is high probability they will not burn out.
3. Sideline coaches confuse young athletes. Let the coaches do the coaching and the parents provide the support. They are working as hard as they can and need to know that their parents notice this. If you want to offer comments and feedback I suggest two options; offer encouraging and motivational support with positive and encouraging comments during the game, or wait until after the game.
4. Help your child cope with setbacks. Young athletes often expect too much of themselves without encouragement to do so by the parents. Athletes who expect too much of themselves have trouble dealing with minor errors that are a natural part of sports. Help your child remain composed in challenging situations. Give him or her “permission” to make mistakes. Tell her it’s ok to shoot an “air ball” from time to time and that no one can be perfect.
5. Allow the child to live their dream – and not yours. Ask yourself, “am I here for my child or is my child here for me?” If it’s the latter then you might like to consider adjusting your approach. Kids want to “play” and play for the sake of playing.
6. Check in with reality. If you expect your child to be a star and go on to college with a sports scholarship please take time to check in with reality. Parents want their children to be successful, but please remember that less than 5% of high school athletes ever go on to play a college sport. If the talent is honestly there at an early age I encourage you to build on that, but if you are stretching reality because “you” want it to happen please be careful.
7. Sprinkle the sugar often. Put a smile on your face, relax, and enjoy the moment. We teach kids to perform in the moment so why not set an example and be in the moment with them. Pay attention to what they are doing and be proud of their commitment and accomplishments. Believe me they are more focused on the fun aspect than on the outcome or end results. Pats on the back and plenty of smiles from the sidelines will be worth their weight in scores, or goals made.
For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.
A Coach’s Letter to Parents
By Darrell J. Burnett, Ph.D.
Here are some hints on how to make this a fun season, with lots of positive memories for your kids and your family.
Make sure your kids know that, win or lose, you love them. Be the person in their life they can always look to for support.
Try to be completely honest with yourself about your kids' athletic capability, their competitive attitude, their sportsmanship, and their level of skills.
Be helpful, but don't coach your kids on the way to the game or at the breakfast table. Think how tough it must be on them to be continually inundated with advice, pep talks, and criticism.
Teach your kids to enjoy the thrill of competition, to be out there trying and to be constantly working to improve their skills. Don't tell them that winning doesn't count because it does, and they know it. Instead, help them develop a healthy competitive attitude, a "feel for competing, for trying hard, and for having a good time."
Try not to live your life through your kids. Sure they're an extension of you, but don't assume they feel the same way you did, want the same things, or have the same attitude.
Don't push them in the direction that gives you the most satisfaction. Don't compete with your kids' coaches. Try to help them understand the necessity for discipline, rules, and regulations.
Don't compare your kids with other players on their team - at least not within their hearing - don't lie to them about their capabilities as a player.
Get to know your kids' coaches. Make sure you approve of each coach's attitude and ethics. Coaches can be influential, and you should know the values of each coach so that you can decide whether or not you want them passed on to your kids.
Teach your kids the meaning of courage. Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is learning to perform in spite of fear. Courage isn't getting rid of fear. It's overcoming it.
Winning is an important goal. Winning at all costs is stupidity.
Remember that officials are necessary. Don't overreact to their calls. They have rules and guidelines to follow representing authority during the game. Teach your kids to respect authority and to play by the rules.
Finally, remember if the kids aren't having fun we're missing the whole point of youth sports.
Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice in Laguna Niguel, California for 25+ years. He is a member of the Little League International Board of Directors. He was listed among the “Top 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America” by the Institute for International Sport. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), and his Sportsmanship Card Game, GOOD SPORT! are described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets, and CDs on youth sports and family life.