3 Things Most Sports Parents Do That Hurts Their Kid’s Confidence

Hi, I’m Craig Sigl, the Mental Toughness Trainer!

How would you like to know what’s going on inside the mind of your son or daughter so that you could know exactly what you should do to best help them succeed in their sport and be happy in their life?

Well, I have guided to success literally hundreds of young athletes and performers one on one in my office and thousands more online worldwide. You are about to benefit from that insider experience!

What you need to know about building confidence in your kids

If you truly want to give your kids a boost to success, the first thing you need to do is stop doing these 3 things that hurt your kids’ confidence so let us get right to it with #1.

1. Giving your kid encouragement, praise and cheers ONLY when they do well out there.

Most of us adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. If I didn’t see them for years now, I would have too. Here’s what you need to understand:

  • When the young performer does well and you cheer and praise, you are giving your approval of what they have just done.
  • When the kid does not do well and looks over at the bench at you and sees your disappointed face and body posture, the child gets the message of Disapproval.
  • As sports fans and audiences, we are conditioned to cheer when things go right and go “Awww” when they go wrong for our team. Now, this is totally fine when you’re watching your favorite pro sports team. Those players are not your children and they can take it. But not your kids because they subconsciously take it, literally, as a form of rejection, and there’s nothing worse for a kid than getting that from their parent.

What you need to do is:

  • be passionately positive even when nothing exciting is happening but especially when the child has a poor performance of any kind. You do not want your child coming away from a game, meet or match with the idea that your approval is dependent on their performance.

You may just be showing your disappointment in empathy for them but that’s not how they are taking it. This is a huge confidence killer.

2. Telling your kid how they could have done better on the car ride home.

Or otherwise giving unsolicited advice at any time right after a poor performance or a loss. Most often, the best thing you can do as a sports parent is nothing.

If your kid ASKS for advice and help on what they could have done better, then yes, of course, give it.  Do your best to be objective about what you observed in delivering your advice and avoid any judgement. Judgement is ultimately the confidence killer.

If you ever watch little kids play in the sandbox together and one of them upsets the other, there’s crying and finger pointing for a few minutes and then after a short time, the kids are right back in the sandbox playing again like nothing happened.

Kids have a much greater natural ability to let go of difficult events faster than us adults. We learn how to hold on to things as we get older because we have all this complex thinking that requires full mental resolution on things.

Kids don’t have that yet and can develop resiliency through difficult events, if allowed to. That’s what we should want for them for their participation in sports, life skills like resilience.

To do that:

  • kids often need the space and freedom to express, if they want to, and then process the difficulty in their own way. Let them.
  • if a kid is holding on to the loss or poor performance and it’s effects for more than a day, then you can jump in and ask if he or she would like to talk or would like some help with their game to improve on the problem.
  • stop jumping in and saving your kid or teaching them how to do it right next time at the worst time, right after the event. That’s what we have coaches for. Resilience is the foundation for confidence.

3. Stop delivering typical sports cliches and trite sayings that mean nothing to a kid like:

“You just have to believe in yourself”
“When you’re out there, you have to be focused”
“Stop overthinking”
“Just go out there and have fun”

This is my personal pet peeve having worked in this area for so long, and youth coaches are the worst offenders. Think about this, can you explain to a kid HOW to believe in themselves? Can you give them the steps to “Stop overthinking?” Or how about that vague command to “Get focused or get your head in the game?”

They don’t know what any of that means, let alone HOW to do what you are telling them.

And so what happens?

You create confusion, uncertainty, worry that they “Aren’t doing it right” and will ultimately disappoint the adults giving them the advice.

So, instead of the kid just playing in the present moment with their body, which they do naturally and don’t have to be told HOW to do, by the way, we teach them with these silly cliche’s to get in their head and their useless fear-based thoughts.

Also, you might think that telling them to “Just go out there and have fun” is good advice and it CAN be but it is a risky move.

Here’s why:

The whole culture of youth sports is organized around winning and how well the kids perform. There’s no question about that. Coaches, parents in the stands cheering good play and being disappointed in poor play like I already mentioned and other messages constantly coming at them like:

Did you win?
How did you do?
Did you start today?
Did you score?
How many points? etc.

If that isn’t enough, kids base their identity on whether or not they get playing time, make the team, get to the next level and even their friendships are centered around this. These messages are constant and everywhere.

And then you go and tell them to “Just go out there and have fun.” They hear that and at best, they forget it after 2 minutes and slip back into the whole performance-centered mentality they’ve been overwhelmed with. And at worst, subconsciously destroy their confidence in advice from you because of the mixed messages.

The worst irony of of it all is:

The parent or coach is giving the advice with the hopes that it helps their performance when in actuality, it hurts it.


I’ve got lots more advice for you as a parent or coach and tips you can directly pass on to your child for how to perform under pressure and a guided visualization to go with it. Oh yeah, and my ebook: The 10 commandments for a great sports parent. I’ll send it all to you in email.

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Sports Parents – Click Here For FREE Downloads

I’m Craig Sigl,
Mental toughness Trainer,
Let’s do this!

21 thoughts on “3 Things Most Sports Parents Do That Hurts Their Kid’s Confidence

  1. patrick hainline

    I am so guilty of all three of these. I drive my wife crazy at my son’s basketball games. I try to coach from the stands. Ugh. I coach his travel baseball team and am mostly positive with the comments to the kids whether they have made an error, strikeout, etc.. We try to keep all comments as a team concept. It’s when I’m not coaching that I struggle. Thanks so much for pointing out my downfall.
    Sincerely, Patrick Hainline

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      You’re very welcome Patrick. That was a courageous example of declaring to yourself here in my comments your commitment to changing that. Way to go. Huge kudos for recognizing the pitfalls and intending to improve!
      Craig

      Reply
  2. Rufus

    Craig. I’m certainly confused about how to respond. I thankfully have been reading a lot about how to ‘assist’ my children in their development as people. My children decided to play competitive soccer every season for the past 3 years. In fact, we, their parents, say NO’ every year to see how they will respond and if they fight for it they send a signal that it’s not us the parents’ living our dreams through our kids. Now the hard part. My generation and suppose a number of us parents are in the same boat, think that we can’t do anything right with the new rules of parenting. We’re supposed to blindly support and sit silently and let our kids figure out things for themselves both on and off the pitch. I recently read an article that stated that we should be completely silent during soccer games. Seriously?! I completely disagree. It seems almost taboo to say this so I’ll just say it….We’re paying money for our kids to get proper instruction and to be put in environments that foster excellence. There’s nothing wrong with expecting excellence, otherwise there wouldn’t be an Ivy League or Top 10 lists of colleges to attend. There is little difference between us paying money for soccer versus paying money for a tutor to get better grades. Would you fire your tutor or look for another one if your kids’ grades didn’t improve? Simple fact is not all children are equal. Not equal in athletic or mental talent. Top level competitive soccer is NOT a recreational league made of volunteer coaches. We’re dealing with paid coaching staffs and administrators. It feels like they have no accountability in their jobs if there’s no room to criticize. I say there’s nothing wrong with expecting excellence and communicating that with you child. I tell my children I love them after each and every game and that I’m proud of them regardless of the outcome. But when they immediately follow up my declaration with, “how’d I do?” I respond, “how do you think you did?” And I take the conversation from there.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Rufus, I think you are not understanding the message completely by this comment: “We’re supposed to blindly support and sit silently and let our kids figure out things for themselves both on and off the pitch.”
      Nowhere did I say that, in fact, I said the opposite. Re-read the article. I advocate looking for something positive to comment about when the kid DOESN’T perform well. For example, I had a parent tell me that their daughter missed a PK at the end of the game that they ended up losing because of it. When the kid and parent met up after the game, the parent gave her a big hug and told her how proud she was of her courage in volunteering to do the PK. A day later, after things calmed down, the parent asked the kid how she was feeling about yesterday’s soccer. She then asked her if she would like some advice and help on how to deal with the nervousness at such a situation for the future. There’s no new rules for parenting…there’s just more information for you here to use to better support your kid. Can you see that in the event I just described in contrast to a parent telling the kid what she should have done differently on the PK kick on the way home in the car? Ask me question about this stark difference in approaches. This is crucial if you get it and I’d love to help you get it. Even if you are professional soccer coach and you saw the error of her footwork clearly on the kick, as a parent, you still have to ask if they want your advice or you risk sending the message of disapproval to a kid. They are HARD WIRED to seek their parents approval and parents would do well to avoid tying performance to approval. This is not “NEW RULES” of parenting, it’s basic psych 101 that has always been true for kids in the past and today that most parents are simply completely unaware of and I attempted to make you aware of it.

      Re: “we should be completely silent during soccer games.” Given what I wrote above and other responses to comments on this page, you can now see that I disagree with this.

      Re: “There’s nothing wrong with expecting excellence, otherwise there wouldn’t be an Ivy League or Top 10 lists of colleges to attend.”
      You are factually incorrect about this. There are countless kids who get to the Ivy League, etc. because they are self-motivated to achieve. Are there kids whose parents have pushed them constantly to get there? Sure. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily but it could be. There are countless kids out there who are pushed, pushed pushed from their parents who are “expecting excellence” who never develop the self motivation because the parents always provided it and then they rebel the first chance they get. Look up Todd Marinovich as an extreme case. Happens all the time. Why take that risk? There is a huge canyon of a difference between pushing a kid because a parent wants it…. and inspiring and encouraging a kid with accountability that the kid agrees to. They both achieve the same goal. One approach risks alienating your kid.
      By the way, I don’t believe there is any “Right” or “Wrong” in this context. There is only effective and non-effective. Parents reading my article thinking I am telling them they are wrong (I am not) is the block that prevents them from seeing the logical information I have presented that could help them support their kid more effectively without risking performance anxiety and damaging the relationship.

      Re: “But when they immediately follow up my declaration with, “how’d I do?” I respond, “how do you think you did?” And I take the conversation from there.” What in my article gives you the idea that I don’t completely agree with this statement? I do.

      Truly you are a 1% parent and I applaud you. Do not take anything I wrote personal…it’s just information to help you.

      Best regards,
      Craig

      Reply
  3. Lisa

    As a successful teacher, I disagree a little with this article. A game is an assessment of skills learned. A student needs to self-evaluate his/her performance on the assessment to identify what needs to be worked on. Young kids need to be taught this skill. I agree that this should be student generated; a parent shouldn’t go down a list of things to work on at practice. However, I think post-game reflection is essential for improvement. It is something that top athletes do. When kids are young they need to be guided and helped to make an effective reflection on performance. Regardless of a win or loss at a game, I always ask my kids how it went, what they did well, and what they think they need to work on. It puts them in control of their learning and puts the performance in their hands.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Lisa, thanks for commenting. I can’t tell what you disagree with? Your comments are in total alignment with what I wrote and teach. Read what I responded to Rob.

      Reply
  4. Robb

    Good lord. I don’t know if i should go and watch, ask my kid how it went or even mention they play a sport. Hell, give em’ all a medal and send them home.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Robb, I would love to help you with this. I’m guessing you (and others here) seem to get the idea from the article that you can’t cheer or praise your kid. That is NOT what I’m saying. Of course we can cheer and celebrate when things go well. But, if that’s the ONLY time you do it, then you risk sending a destructive message. The key word here is ONLY and I highlighted it in the article. If all you do is praise good performance and try to correct bad performance…that can be a problem. That’s the gist of this article. Next item…your comment: 1. “ask my kid how it went” is a PERFECT QUESTION to ask your kid after a game. Do you see the difference between that and 2. “How did you do?” Question #2 is a performance judgment question. You simply want to get kids OFF the idea of constantly judging their performance. What you want them to do is to assess themselves on their EFFORT and SKILL ACQUISITION. That is what leads to winning without performance anxiety.

      Reply
  5. Mark Moore

    As a coach for 39 years, I think you’re spot on with 99% of the article. It isn’t about not commenting, but the timing and how you say it. It took me awhile to learn that. 🙂

    My only (minor) disagreement is not saying the comments “Just go out and have fun” – or similar. Having coached at the highest club level and (now) in the recreation level, that is the one common factor for all players. If they don’t enjoy the experience (training, competition, etc.) then they won’t give 100%. I try to make sure the player know their responsibilities in training (yes, I try to make training ‘fun’ too!), then sit in my chair at matches with minimal interaction during play. Of course, if I see something breakdown, I comment on that breakdown, specifically, then sit back down. Adjust at half and do it again for the second half.

    Yes, I have been guilty of saying the wrong things after a particularly poor performance, but those times have become fewer and farther apart as I got older (thankfully). At the end of the day, I want the players to learn, be as successful as they can (within their own resources), have fun, come back and play next year, and try to make sure I do or say nothing that would keep me awake at night. 🙂

    Nice article. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Mark, thank you very much for your comment. The problem with “Just go out there and have fun” is that is just wholly ineffective at influencing your player to enjoy the experience. I am in total agreement that the player enjoying the experience is a powerful force for better performance. However, that statement is just too vague and doesn’t get taken in, as are many generalizations. What is much more effective at inducing the enjoyment is to remind a player to focus on things that you know he/she loves about playing. Direct their mind onto specifics. It might sound like this: “Joe, get out there and when you have spare time to think about anything, focus on how cool it is to be playing on this team (name specifics), be on this field (add specifics) and play this sport today (add specifics). There isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing today than this, right now, how about you? Think about that as you play today….. That will help an athlete create the enjoyment, through their thoughts, no matter what happens out there.
      Craig

      Reply
  6. Patricia

    I am definitely guilty of all three of these…It is funny though, because I have been researching growth mindset. So this advice is consisten with that research. Thank you for the advice, no more in the car advice afterward!

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Hi Patricia, It’s ok to give advice in the car on the way home if you ask your kid if they would like advice and they genuinely want it. Even then, tread lightly.
      🙂

      Craig

      Reply
  7. Sharon

    How can you explain a poor right up in the newspaper that such and such a team did not play well, they mention the reason for their loss, and what moves where done poorly? The kids read this and think “were we that bad” because the newspaper says so

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Hi Sharon, thanks for comment. Haven’t heard that one before. I would have a sit-down talk where I am looking my kid right in the eye, which I reserve for talks where I really want to make an impact. In that talk, I would (and have many times) told my kid some truths about life, our society, how people think. I also have these talks on road trips where I have their captive attention. I love having these talks on camping trips or in the backyard around a fire where there is nothing but just straight talk. You’re going to have to have a talk on today’s media. Give your kids the truth, they can handle it. People in the media TV, Radio, Newspapers, Blogs, Social sites, etc. can say whatever they want and often have no problem giving a spin that is nothing like reality.

      So here’s what typically might happen which is why you are struggling with this…. Kid has a game. Kid reads article that says the team sucks. Mentions something about it out loud. Adult hears it and simply says back: “Oh don’t believe everything you read in a newspaper, it’s just their opinion.” and adult thinks job is done. It’s not. Kid doesn’t believe parent about that. A quick response like that isn’t going to change the kid’s beliefs about media because kid knows that mom and dad just say stuff like that because that’s what mom’s and dads are supposed to do when they feel bad. You’ve got to have these IMPACTFUL talks to get them to change their beliefs. Quick responses won’t cut it. Always remember, kids have a “parent advice” radar on at all times and we either need to operate under it or punch through it.
      Craig

      Reply
  8. Kay

    I would like to see some examples of what specifically we are to do/say in several scenarios. I feel like I can’t say anything.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Hi Kay, I totally understand your point and the truth is, it can be a bit of a minefield. but it’s worth the extra thought we as parents put into it.
      Bottom line, 1. praise effort and skill acquisition. 2. Ask if your kid wants advice and help with his/her game.
      Example: Kid blows game or chokes big in the game. What I would say. “Johnny, do you feel like talking about the game or would you rather not?”
      If you get a yes, then I would find something to praise:
      “I am really proud of you how you handled that difficulty out there. You must have felt really bad and yet, you walked off the field like a true sportsman. I’m really proud of you how you showed up today. You know, a lot of kids are staying home today and watching TV or playing video games. I’m very proud of you for going out there and giving it your best and taking the risk that something like this could happen. That takes courage. You are loaded with courage and it will take you far.”

      Kay, give me a scenario and I’d be happy to respond.

      Craig

      Reply
  9. Quinn

    So,my son has played competitive basketball year around for 6 years. Its all he likes to do and his skills and potential are off the charts. However, he is about as “non-aggressive” as a kid can be. Now that he is getting older the kids are more aggressive and play faster and harder. He started this year on the starting team, did great, had a few ??? games and then just seemed to stop playing on the court. Now, at the end of this year he almost never plays. When he goes out on the court he wants nothing to do with the ball and gives it away asap. We as parents are lost…not much out there on the web but there is a real issue with his mental state and basket ball.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl

      Hi Quinn, have you put him through the Mental Toughness academy yet? If not, I have just created a new version of it specifically for basketball players that has the tools he needs to play to his potential. https://basketballmentaltoughness.com/

      Bottom line is that he has some internal mental blocks that need to be cleared. The program is a good start and if he needs stronger medicine, I can put him with one of my trainers who knows basketball well.

      Thanks for following,
      Craig

      Reply

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