When Young Athletes Under-perform: What Should Parents Do?

By: Dr. Patrick Cohn And Lisa Cohn

As a sports mom for more than 15 years, I've faced a lot of challenges. Today my challenge is my 9-year-old, who plays soccer and basketball. She also swims, ice skates, dances and spends a lot of time in her Heeleys (those sneakers with rollers in the bottom).

My 9-year-old has always been the tallest girl in her class, with the longest legs. And because she's always moving (dancing, skating, running around in her Heeleys), she's in good shape. She's also a smart athlete. She keeps her eyes open and looks for opportunities. All these traits give her a tremendous advantage when she's out on the field or court.

But does she make the most of all her advantages? Generally not! This poses a dilemma for me, the sports parent. I know she's having fun. Should I push her? Should I remind her that she's got a lot going for her, and just a little bit more effort would help her-and her teams-excel?

The answer, simply, is no.

When parents push kids too hard and expect too much of them, young athletes can develop a fear of failure. They long to impress their parents and worry about letting them down. This can cause them to worry about making mistakes. It's a sure-fire way to ensure they'll under-perform.

Fear of failure limits athletes from performing their best and can cause athletes to give up their dreams in sports. Be mindful of the subtle ways that your communication with your child turns into pressure. Kids can feel pressure-even if you didn't think you were pressuring them.

Here are some tips for sports parents:

&bull Provide positive motivation-not negative feedback

&bull Help your athlete establish appropriate goals

&bull Focus on fun and good sportsmanship

&bull Help your child stop worrying about what everyone thinks

&bull Be mindful of the expectations you might place on your child about performance.

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