Developing Resilience Through Your Child’s Sport

At the Mental Toughness Academy we want to support you to be great sports parents, because you have a tremendous impact on the way your children see themselves and interact with the world. Anthony Ross author of Developing Resilience Through Your Child's Sport

We have found a great resource for you, Sport Parent Support, a website dedicated to helping parents ‘foster well-being in children through sport. 

This article on Developing Resilience Through Your Child’s Sport by Anthony Ross, a sports psychologist and a former professional tennis player who competed at Wimbledon explains how… 

  • Exposing your child to difficulties, setbacks, and unfairness serves as ‘growth opportunities’ to develop his resilience
  • Just as important to your child’s resilience development is how you then respond to his stressful experience

Exposure to ‘Positive Normal Stress’

Vaccines help on developing resilienceMost of us have received vaccines to boost our immune defenses. Vaccines act like small doses of adversity for our immune system leading to this system becoming stronger in fighting off disease. Your child’s difficult sport experiences also provide the necessary vaccines that help him develop resilience to face future life challenges.

Let’s look at two crucial ways that you can support this process…

It’s first critical to encourage your child’s exposure to difficulties, setbacks, and perceived unfairness common in sport. When you do this you provide him with the required opportunities for development, growth and resilience building. It turns out the moderate stress that he encounters in these situations is a requirement for appropriate brain development just like exercise is for physical and brain development, and health challenge is for immune development.

How Does the Brain Respond to Moderate Stress?

In small doses, like faced in difficult sport situations, neurons, which are the brain’s basic building blocks, break down but then rebuild more strongly making our brain more resilient to face future demands. Neuroscientists call this phenomenon stress inoculation. Assuming it’s not to severe or prolonged, our brains become stronger as a result of stress making it a necessity for growth.  And so if you can encourage your child’s exposure to sport stresses you are helping to build his brain’s ability to overcome adversity and develop resilience.

The problem with over protection

Parent responding effectively to child's stressBut this is not easy to do. It’s natural for you to have a strong inclination to be very protective of your child, but when parents are overprotective regarding difficult sport experiences, children are robbed of opportunities to develop resilience.

Sport is the perfect context to intentionally promote the moderate, short-term stressful experiences that will allow your child to function better in the future even though he, and you, may feel worse during the adverse experience.

Responding to your child’s stress effectively

Also, while exposing your child to sport stress is important, just as important is how you then respond to his stressful experience. In response to perceived unfairness or difficulties common in sport, it is vital to encourage his perception of having personal control over outcomes.

This means encouraging your child to focus on controllable factors internal to him such as hard work and discipline in overcoming difficulties rather than focusing on external factors such as selection or luck.

If you can view perceived unfairness and difficulties such as poor decisions or being left out of a desired team as an opportunity to grow, and successfully communicate that your child’s actions will determine his long term fate, not factors external to him, he will receive the message that he can affect future outcomes in his life.

The problem with focusing on external factors

Coach and parents arguing with officialsIf, however, you take actions such as complaining or trying to influence decisions, you promote a victim mentality and your child will likely internalize the message that he does not control outcomes which encourages ‘helplessness’. This is an innate human response that arises when we believe that we don’t have control over life outcomes.

By encouraging your child’s exposure to ‘sport stress’, and communicating personal control in response, you are effectively vaccinating him to the challenges he will face throughout life.

Do you find it hard to allow your child to go through difficulties?  I do!!! Tell us about it in the comments below…

Craig Sigl, the mental toughness trainerWelcome to the Winner’s Circle

Craig Sigl, the mental toughness trainer

2 thoughts on “Developing Resilience Through Your Child’s Sport

  1. karen holmes

    Thank you for this brilliant article! I’m a netball coach who watched my team of 13 year olds take a beating yesterday. I was looking for techniques for building their mental resilience and strength and this has given me many ideas.

    1. Craig Sigl

      Thanks for commenting Karen. Lots of good stuff here for building resilience. That’s the beauty of youth sports, they get an opportunity to learn this extremely important mental skill (and it is a skill just like physical skills) in a safe environment so they have it later in life when they really need it. 🙂


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