Today I am honored to have Mental Toughness trainer Craig Sigl as a guest author. Craig is the creator of 6 mental game training programs for athletes sold in 28 countries.
As parents and coaches there are some simple, but critical things you can do for your kids in sports that will make a huge difference in their happiness and success in playing their sport.
I put encouragement first, because this is by far the most important need of any kids in sports. You cannot overdo encouragement. The problems start when parents and coaches give praise only after good performances and call that encouragement. All that does is give the child the idea that your acceptance and approval is dependent on a good performance.
What parents need to do is simply express their joy and excitement about watching their athlete play their sport. For example, instead of saying, “Way to hit that home run”, what would be more encouraging would be to say something like, “I loved the confidence I saw when you were hitting the ball up there.”
Notice that you can say that last sentence even if your kid struck out!
It’s NOT about the winning
First question to ask yourself is, “why do you want your kid to play sports?” Most parents and coaches agree it is for them to have fun and build life skills. Your kids can accomplish these two things whether they win or not and there is a case to be made they learn more from losing.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most ignored areas of youth sports. Your kids are out there moving their body and sweating. It is extremely important to keep them hydrated with water, not those florescent sports drinks. Also avoiding sugary snacks that spike their blood sugar then bring them crashing down.
It’s very easy for parents of kids playing sports to ignore this, because there is “only so many hours in a day” and they also have homework, family chores, etc. They are so worried and stressed out about keeping up their studies and giving their all to their sport, they often have trouble sleeping.
They need wind down time at night and a regular bedtime schedule.
Acceptance among peers
This is a biggie. While you can’t make all of your kid’s friends like him, you CAN check in to find out how he is fitting in with his team or group. Some coaches pit players against each other, but studies show everyone does better when there is team harmony. This is especially important when working with girl’s teams.
Bullying is also prevalent in youth sports and there should be a no tolerance policy on your kid’s team. It’s a big reason why kids quit sports.
Respect their opinion
Just because you played or know something about your kid’s sport, does not mean YOU know the best way to help him become a better player. You know you are on the wrong track with helping your kid when you think to yourself, “Well, it worked for me.”
In my free ebook, “The 10 Commandments For A Great Sports Parent,” I teach parents a number of effective ways to giving advice. It starts with asking permission and respecting “no.” If you go past that, you are only hurting your relationship and ultimately his confidence and performance.
To be taught and shown physical skills
There are approximately 3 million youth sports coaches out there and less than 20% of coaches have any training to be a coach. 85% of all coaches are the parent of one of the players. In other words, do not assume they are getting good skill instruction. It’s up to you to make sure this is happening.
Take a keen interest in what your child is learning by asking them about their latest skill. Really be present in these conversations and ask open-ended questions to keep it going. When some kids get the personal instruction and others don’t, it creates a formula for destroying confidence.
To have mental skills modeled and explained
My definition of mental toughness is when you are focused, confident, determined, and resilient…especially under pressure. We have an 8-step program in our Mental Toughness Academy to help your child develop these mental skills.
It’s your job though to model them. For example, if you want your child to learn sportsmanship, you’d better be a great sport from the stands by clapping at appropriate times for the other competitors and keeping quiet when there are bad officials calls.
If you want your kid to be calm under pressure, show him how to do that at home.
This is the most powerful way that kids learn anything.
Advocate for them
Most youth sports programs are well run. Most coaches are well intentioned.
Unfortunately, sometimes things fall apart and it is the parent’s job to step in or pull the plug when the young athlete’s sports participation is tilting to the negative.
Always remember, when approaching the coach, to present your concerns with the utmost respect for another human being who is doing their best. A fabulous technique that I’ve taught parents in confronting a coach or director is to use the “feedback sandwich.” This means, you start out the conversation with praise, followed by your concern, and finishing up with more praise. Here’s how that could go:
“Hi Coach, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate all your efforts and time you put in for this team. I’m very grateful for all you do for these kids. I wonder if I might ask you about Johnny’s playing time and what you think he needs to do in order to get more time on the field. And by the way, that last game where you pumped the team to get that win was brilliant”…(then be quiet and let the coach speak.)
If you want to learn more about how to help your child be successful in sports and life then go to: Youth Sports Mental Toughness to receive a free ebook: “The 10 Commandments for a Great Sports Parent”. We also have a free video training and guided visualization to help your child discover how to perform under pressure.
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