In this article, parents of football players will learn the two most important things they can do to help their young player succeed.

There have been numerous studies conducted to find out what highly successful football players have in common. Besides the obvious – talent and hard work – a number of surprising conclusions have come to light.

What is at the top of the list?

  • Supportive parentsHow much the athlete had support at home and the high quality of the coaching. I work with young athletes every day in my office and I always start out by telling the parent how impressed I am by their recognizing the value of mental training by bringing their young athlete to a performance coach like me. Winning championships, scholarships, and even making a pro team is usually a team effort between the athlete, family and coaches.

The NFL is filled with stories like this:

There are athletes who were blessed with tons of talent and moved up the ranks only to self destruct before reaching their full potential because they didn’t have that kind of support at home and didn’t learn how to be comfortable in their own skin.

I get asked by parents regularly how to best help young football players’ mental preparation. There is no cookie cutter mold for this as each athlete is different and the kind of parental support offered to one athlete can be exactly what is needed and to another person, can cause confidence destruction, but there are some universal principles that most, if not all young football players can benefit from:


  1. Goal setting for athletes

    This is a proven tactic and this goes for any age group. Learning the basics of committing yourself to a goal is a powerful life skill in addition to a motivator to put in the work that’s necessary to succeed in sports.

    Parents and coaches are invaluable for assisting young players for this. Goals need to be specific and measurable, like this:

    “Lead the team in tackles by the end of this season.”

    “Make the High School Varsity team next season.”

    “Complete better than 50% of my passes all year.”

    Goals need to be tough, but do-able. Don’t make them easy or impossible to achieve. And they should have a time deadline. Finally, write them down and look at them often to fire you up to put in the work to make them reality.

  2. Encourage your athlete.

    It is the easiest thing to do and probably the best thing a parent or coach can do to boost confidence and morale but how many actually do it? Once in blue moon telling the athlete they are good isn’t enough.

    So how do you encourage your athletes?

    Parents and coaches should make it a point to communicate 6 positive encouragement statements to every critical one. This ratio comes from a study that tracked measurable performance in a business environment for adults and so it’s possible that an even higher ratio would be recommended for kids. Don’t be afraid to offer that criticism as long as it’s done constructively and at the right time.

    Kids have told me hundreds of times they appreciate it when it comes across positively. Let your athlete make most of his/her own decisions.

    I am constantly asked how much to push a child and there is no definitive answer but, the extremes of micro-managing and not caring at all certainly don’t work. To find out the sweet spot, just ASK:

    “What is the best way for me to support you?”

    You can offer suggestions and let them pick if they say:

    “I don’t know.”

    Why is it VERY important to listen to your athletes?

    Sports parentsWhen an athlete has a disappointing or poor performance, it’s quite tempting for parents to offer how the problem should be “fixed.” Often the best course of action is to simply acknowledge the athlete IF they express the desire to talk in the first place. Many athletes do better by working it out themselves.

    How do you know when your athletes need help?

    You can pick up a clue that they might need help if after a week or more, they are still sulking about it. Even then, you still must ASK the athlete if he/she wants to talk about it. Now, if your kid violates family values with any kind of behavior, then certainly you can step in without that permission.

    Sometimes it’s a very fine line we as parents walk but all you really need to know here is for you to model what you want to see your kid do. I have witnessed some coaches with very little sports qualifications do amazing things in youth sports by following these simple rules. I am most impressed when I talk to a coach who wants me to come in and give a mental training workshop or talk for his team or league.

    Always remember this:

    Football playerOnly about 2% of high school athletes become good enough to get an athletic scholarship and most of those are partial scholarships, not full rides. The main reason for sports participation at any age is to learn life skills. 100% of athletes can get that with proper parent and coach support.

I’m Craig Sigl,
Your Mental Toughness Trainer