TIPS to parents on how to support their child in their sport experience

Sport Psychology TIPS to parents:  Become a Consultant and Help Build Confidence

One very common scenario is parents becoming overly invested in their son or daughter’s sports performance and placing undue pressure on the athlete.  The pressure is usually unknowingly invested, but the fact of the matter is that the child doesn’t want to disappoint the parent.  This shift in focus usually has a negative affect on performance.   Often times, parents place emphasis on the outcome, which involves results, winning and expectations. For example, “You should have won that match 6-0,” or “You are going to score 3 goals today” are common phrases that you might hear from an overly invested parent.  The athlete internalizes this by often thinking that they will be a disappointment or failure if they don’t meet their parent’s expectations.

If a parent catches themselves doing this or it is pointed out to them by someone else, it can be reversed if the parent can get back to what excites their son or daughter when they first started their sport.  In other words, “why is the athlete out there?”  The answer may be surprising.  Maybe it’s because he/she enjoys improving or honing their skills, maybe it’s more social and they enjoy the camaraderie of a team.  Or maybe they just love the competition.  Whatever the answer may be, it’s important for the parent to tap into that and ONLY focus on that.  Otherwise, sports becomes a job for the child, instead of what it is supposed to be, which is FUN.  If the parent can come to some sort of realization that they need to step back and be more of a consultant as opposed to that overly involved parent, then a huge positive change can occur.

Parents also might have a hard time identifying when their kids are lacking confidence and knowing tools that are available to them to help get their son/daughter back on track in their sport.  Ways to identify if an athlete is lacking confidence would be by looking at the athlete’s practice vs. competition.  Do they seem free in practice and tight in competition?   Also, parents might hear their athlete say, “I don’t think I can beat so, so….he’s really good.”  This would be an example of self-doubt.  Another way to identify a lack of confidence is if they are clamming up before competition.  They may be nervous or anxious.  As a parent, it’s important to ask if they are just getting ready for the competition or is it something else?  And finally, you may see a lack of confidence in how they perform in the actual competition.  If a hockey player isn’t digging a puck out of the corners or a baseball player is waiting for the perfect pitch, these could be indicators of a lack of overall confidence.  As a parent, you can either give confidence or take it away.  You can take it way by emphasizing expectations and concentrating on mistakes.

If an athlete is on a “confidence roller coaster” where confidence comes and goes, it’s important for the parent to strive to stabilize that confidence.  Whether the athlete made a mistake, started out a game poorly, or had a poor warm-up, as a parent you have to understand how he/she is losing confidence. For example, the athlete may be doubting his/her ability when he/she makes a mistake, but to stabilize that confidence it’s important for the parent to emphasize that the athlete has been practicing for YEARS. It’s not the last play or last practice that defines them.  Then maybe the athlete will approach the situation differently next time or be less sensitive to mistakes, and be even more determined and focused to get the “next one.”  It’s true…..Champions have long memories of their great performances and short memories of their poor performances.  Much of this thinking is often affected by the parent’s approach and influence.

And lastly, it is not up to parents to fix their son or daughter’s performance anxiety.  That is the job of myself and other sport psychologists and mental game coaches.  It is important for parents to know their role:

  • Be supportive and do not focus on the outcome
  • Identify if their son/daughter is lacking confidence and asking them why they got into sports in the first place.  And listening to them and focusing just on that.
  • And by reminding them that one mistake doesn’t define who they are, but only gives them the opportunity to become better.  What defines them is the years of practice and commitment they have put into their sport.

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Ryan Long, MSW, LICSW

ryan@ryanlonglicsw.com

202-875-1495

verified by Psychology Today

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