Top 5 Tips to Improve Confidence in Young Athletes

Seventy five percent of all young athletes drop out of sports by the time they are 13 years old.  Why?  Because sports is no longer fun for them. Playing competitively no longer brings them joy and satisfaction.

Whether you believe it or not you, as a parent, you have the power to determine whether your child drops out of sports or stays with it.  You as a parent have the ability to build your child’s confidence, ensure he or she feels successful and has fun. After all, it’s really about having fun, isn’t it?

Kids today feel immense pressure to produce results in school and on the athletic field either to gain respect and approval, or to make their parents happy.  Let’s face it every kid wants to please their parents.  In some sports parents spend thousands of dollars on equipment, instruction, and travel for their kid’s athletic endeavors.  From my professional experience, I can tell you that every child feels a deep sense of obligation and responsibility to “pay back’ their parents by performing well in the game or in school.

So, what are the Top Five challenges for Sports Parents?youth football

It’s not easy being a sports parent.  It’s often hard to know just how involved to be in your child’s athletic experience.  If your child loves sports, his or her love is contagious. You get wrapped up in the experience right with them.  Sometimes you begin to confuse your own dreams with the child’s dreams about sports.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a mom on this subject, “My daughter is a very good Jr. Tennis player at the age of 13. We have been working very hard on getting her to this point. She practices in the early morning before school and in the evening after school before she does her homework. Recently, she has been on a streak of losing matches. I was upset at this trend and asked her if she was upset. She said, mom it’s only a game and don’t you worry. I will work myself out of this slump. I then realized, for my daughter, it was a momentary blip in the bigger picture. She had processed it, but I was still stuck on it. I was more wrapped up in it than she was.”

As a parent this might be a familiar scene. Most sports parents experience some of these thoughts at one time or another during their child’s developing sports career.

Hey life is not about being perfect. I say this to my athlete client’s, their parents and even coaches so go easy on yourself. If you are feeling these things you are most likely a concerned, caring, loving, and involved parent. At times you may be a bit over involved, but remember you can make the necessary changes.

So what are the Top 5 Most Common Sports Parent Characteristics that can undermine a child’s experience?

1. You live at times through your child. Your dream is to make your child succeed, no matter what.  When your child succeeds, you feel accomplished. You feel like you did your job for the day. You sometimes cancel important events so you can watch your child participate and perform. You feel really bad when your child does not live up to your expectations for them.

2. You evaluate your child’s success or failure based on their performance, not on their happiness.  When your child wins or performs well you believe this represents an improvement in their performance. You don’t understand or see the correlation between time and effort in practice and “results” in competition. You feel they are not working as hard as they could be or the coach is not doing his job. Results are more important than your child having fun.

3. You’re overcritical of your child’s performance.  The time not to be focused on results is after a game.  Feelings are raw and your kids most likely don’t really want to talk about things.  You on the other hand have a hard time letting it go, and want to focus on what they did poorly rather than on what they did well. Consequently, you rarely offer congratulatory comments. It’s more important for you to give pointers about how things could be improved.

4. You over coach on the sidelines.  This is a big issue and a lot of parents do this. You want their performance to be so good that you can’t help yourself from constant helpful tips from the sidelines.  You have a hard time letting the coach do their job and believe your comments will help their performance.  From my experience, this over coaching can be a distraction, and a de-motivator.

5. Your child is parent-motivated, not self-motivated.  You feel you must push your child to go to practice and games.  When your child wants to engage in another activity you have a hard time understanding why. You lack the intuitive foresight to consider that maybe your child is overwhelmed by your being overwhelming.  You have a hard time letting “good enough” be enough. You are constantly giving additional tips, and coaching rather than letting them bask in the good feelings they get from having a good game.

What can you do as a parent to really help your child be a better performer without you’re over coaching, and allow them to enjoy sport participation?

Youth sports psychology is all about improving your child’s attitude and mental game so he or she is happier and more successful in the long run. Specifically, youth sports psychology identifies “limiting beliefs” or beliefs that undermine a child’s overall experience. One of your goals as a parent should be to help your child embrace a healthier philosophy about competition.

Here are the Top 5 Tips for Sports Parent that will help you helps your child have a better experience in sports.

1. Recognize that your child may have a different agenda than you. Remember, if you look at the most important factor here it’s about your child’s enjoyment and not about what you want out of your child’s performance. Ask yourself; is this about me or about them?

Tip:  Tap into your child’s reasons for participating in sports. Simply ask the question why they like sports and what it brings to him or her. Ask them if they are having fun. Once you know this information you can motivate your child based on his or her desires, not yours.

2.  Your child just wants to have fun.  Is this fact so difficult to comprehend?   Many kids just want to play because they are with their friends. Winning is an important aspect of being with friends not the one and only important thing. As parents I ask you to make sports a time for fun.  Remember the experiences they have now with set the stage for their enjoyment in sports later in life for themselves and their kids.  Final point, most kids drop out of sports when it is no longer fun for them.

Tip: Fun and enjoyment is the key factor that develops real motivation. If you create an environment that emphasizes fun, friendship, and enjoyment you are developing a sense of desire and motivation.  As an adult, when are you most likely to stop doing something?

3. Use regular positive reinforcement and constructive feedback.  Constructive feedback and positive reinforcement help develop confidence, focus, and self-esteem.  If the discussion happens to be about errors, be sure to offer constructive and positive reinforcing comments. Positive reinforcement in situations where it is warranted, builds confidence and trust in their skills.

Tip:  Constructive feedback comes from your willingness to instill confidence in your child rather than be more focused on skill development.  I know it’s hard, but try and park your negative criticism about their performance.  Try to let the coach do the coaching and you provide the positive reinforcement.  When the game is over spend more time and effort focusing on the things they did well. Many athletes, by nature harbor enough self-criticism. They don’t need yours to add to the pile.

4. Leave coaching to the experts.  Remember, that many of the youth coaches out there are fathers, and mothers donating their time because they want to contribute.  Getting sidelines coaching comments from parents is not really what they need. You may want to coach your child to success, which is great.  However, your child may already have an experienced coach and they have the knowledge and skills to help your child progress.  I don’t know a child, and I have worked with many, that say they are happy with their parent’s constant barrage of comments from the sidelines. Your role as a sports parent is to support, support, and support. If you don’t like what the coach is dong, or saying, or teaching, then it’s your responsibility to make the necessary changes.

Tip: Become a cheerleader and support rather than a second coach. Try to understand the coach’s agenda and philosophy.  If you don’t know it ask him to explain it. Your role is to help communicate the coach’s philosophy to your child. Believe me, your child will be less confused, and develop confidence quicker if there are fewer birds chirping in their ears about what not to do, or about what they can do better.

5. Teach self-motivation rather than motivation by others.  Self-motivation is the key to a long and successful career. It is common for many kids who are parent-motivated to drop out of sports because of burn out or because they feel too much pressure to succeed.  If there is too much pressure from external sources they won’t be happy and will not take self control of their sports destiny. It’s essential that your child develop an internal drive or self-motivation based on their lover of sports and competition.  You can do this by understanding from the very beginning your child’s objective and goals.

Tip:  Self-motivation is the best type of motivation. Therefore, your role is to help instill internal motivation in your child. That is motivation they develop on their own from their love of sports. Goals should be set by the child – with your guidance of course. Make sure these goals are attainable.  It’s important your child believes they are creating these goals and that they are not your goals.


Confidence is the most important factor that influences a child’s level of success and happiness in sports. Most young athletes will gain confidence from practice and success over time. However, you as a sports parent can be proactive and help make your child feel even more confident and happier right now.   I invite you to try some of these tips and see how they improve your child’s sports experience.


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