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As a parent, you want the best for your child, but it is easy to make it worse for them! Having your children playing sports is very important for their overall character development, but read on to make sure it does not go wrong.
Welcome to the Mental Toughness Academy! I’m Craig Sigl, the Mental Toughness Trainer and I specialize in youth sports athletes.
I wanted to put share with you some of my suggestions on how to make sure that it is a positive experience and I would love to hear your experience and stories in the comment section below.
If you are like most parents thinking of putting their kid in youth sports, you might be asking yourself questions like:
Will my child be safe? Will he enjoy playing sports like I did? What if the coach is bad? What if my child doesn’t have talent and is a benchwarmer all year? What will I do if he doesn’t want to go to practice? Can we afford the travel and other expenses? How will we get him to those mid-week early games when we both work?
If you think it’s confusing for you, kids today face even more uncertainty and suffer from even more anxiety than our generation ever did. Believe me I have worked with 100’s of kids in sports.
I suggest you let go of any idea that you know what it is like to play a sport these days. The game has changed dramatically with much more pressure put on kids from youth sport coaches, their peers and even other parents.
Why I think playing sports is so great for kids, is that it can offer some of the most powerful life-enhancing experiences your child will ever have and you would be hard pressed to duplicate in other ways! Working hard towards a goal, teamwork and how to be a good winner and loser, just to name a few.
We teach children at the Mental Toughness Academy, our brand of mental toughness and life skills, which are how to be focused, confident, determined and resilient, even under pressure. These skills have been learned by kids as young as 7 years old and we see them transfer over to all areas of their lives.
Here’s a typical scenario we hear all the time…
Carol, the parent of 10-year-old little league baseball player Mitch, said her son who was showing visible signs of sports fear that were holding him back. From speaking with her, it became obvious Mitch’s father, Ben, was putting way too much pressure on him. After every game, Ben would go over with Mitch everything he did wrong and tell him what he needed to do in practice that week to fix it.
Mitch’s stomach was always tied up in knots every time he stepped onto the field. He tried doing everything he could to please his father, whom he worshiped and wanted to gain his approval.
Mitch’s Dad wasn’t being mean. He was just trying to help his son improve and get better. However, Mitch, like many kids his age, was very sensitive. He was interpreting his Dad’s head shaking, gesturing from the stands and his constantly needling him to work on his game, as “there was something wrong with him.”
Worse yet, Mitch began to believe “I’m not good enough.”
Mitch’s little 10-year-old brain thought that the only way to be “good enough” was to “try harder.” At game time, this kind of thinking triggered his nervous system into anxiety, which made it even harder for him to perform under pressure.
You see, you can’t “try harder” to get more hits in baseball or any sport for that matter. For kids to perform their best, they have to be relaxed and positive. They play their best when they are in a frame of mind that is as natural as playing a game with their buddies in the sand lot.
After talking with Mitch’s Dad, I could tell that he was really a great father and cared very much for his son. Like most sports parents, he only wanted to see Mitch become the best he could be. He said he was just treating his son they way his father had treated him. He thought that since it had worked for him, it should work for Mitch too.
I wrote an ebook, The 10 Commandments For Being A Great Sports Parent to help parents learn how to best support their kids in sports. One of the first things I teach is that their kids are NOT them! They are their own unique person, with their own distinctive way of processing things. The most important thing to remember to best support your child, is to NEVER communicate with words or body language that your approval is dependent on their performance.
For instance, this means if Mitch strikes out in baseball, he should only see his Dad giving him an understanding and reassuring smile. It means after the game, that his Dad doesn’t offer unsolicited advice on how Mitch could have connected with the ball. It means that his Dad had to change from being his coach…to his biggest fan!
Also remember your child is not a smaller version of you or a short adult. They have their own personalities, perspective on the world and ways they like to be motivated. This advice works like magic! I have seen how time and time again, kid’s performances take off after parents’ layoff playing assistant coach.
Nowadays, way too many parents push their young athletes way too hard, at too young of an age. It most often ends up creating a lack of self-confidence and self worth. Some kids can handle it, many cannot. Just because that worked for you does not mean it will work for your kid.
If you have any doubts about if you should offer advice to your child, I would highly recommend you ASK them, “May I offer you some advice?” If they say no, you need to honor that. They should be the ultimate authority on what works for them. I promise if you follow this advice, it will greatly improve your relationship.
Welcome to the Winner’s Circle!
Craig Sigl, the Mental Toughness Trainer