When I watch my teenage daughter play basketball, I have to restrain myself from yelling instructions from the sidelines… And I am a sport and performance psychologist!
We all want our kid to be the best they can be! It’s challenging to watch them struggle, lose, and just generally not live up to what we know is their true potential. After all, evolution is at play, you’re watching your genetic potential out there on the court or field. However, your investment can be a huge risk because it can drive you to do things that are not helpful for your kid.
Here’s what you can do to help your kid play their A-Game:
Get Better at Praising Effort
The best coaches understand that results are out of the players control. How many points/goals/runs scored is a result. What the athlete controls is their focus, drive, and energy that they bring to each game. You can enhance that by praising those things. Have a goal to notice the effort and energy they put in and make specific comments about it. “I was impressed by your drive, even though you missed you were aggressive and had great form.” That will keep your player in the hunt even if they lost.
Encourage Internal Motivation
A study of west point cadets showed that that people are motivated by internal factors more than external ones.1 Your young player is most likely going to do better because they have a desire to be a part of a peer group or team rather than winning a trophy. When I ask NBA, NFL or MLB players why they want to play ball, if the answer is external motivators, like fame or money that doesn’t bode well for their career. I want to know what their passion is. Find out what your kid’s passion is. The answer can be simple as playing sports makes them feel good. But find out WHY?!
I hear parents and coaches in little leagues everywhere screaming, “Get in the zone” or “just focus.” If they knew where the zone was, they would get into it! Kids, elite athletes and the rest of us need a method to do these things. Learning some basic sport and performance psychology skills is essential. Tactical breathing, performance routines and imagery can all help. I discuss these in detail in my book Life As Sport .
The most important thing is to show your kid how to enjoy sports and have a good experience. As I said, my daughter plays basketball and when I see her do things like not keeping her arms up, it can trigger me to say or do unhelpful things. But, at the end of my life, I want her to remember my clapping and cheering, not yelling like a maniac. At the end of their careers, people who play at the little league or major leagues always wish the enjoyed it all more. As a parent, you can help ensure that that will be the case. Ask them what they enjoyed most about each practice or game and confirm your understanding by repeating it back to them.
Engage in Mental Performance Coaching
Your kid is likely stretching, strength building and practicing the fundamentals of their sport. As they grow you and they will realize, if you haven’t already, that so much of their success and enjoyment of their sport is dependent on their confidence, focus and attitude. Mental performance coaching that focuses on training these factors can help you and your son or daughter to perform at their best both on and off the field.
Wrzesniewski, A., Schwartz, B., Cong, X., Kane, M., Omar, A., & Kolditz, T. (2014). Multiple types of motives don’t multiply the motivation of West Point cadets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(30), 10990-10995.