Sports Guidance for Parents

By John R. Ellsworth – Master Mental Game Coach
Protex Sports, LLC

I think parents should allow their young children to choose the athletic activities they participate in. If they choose to avoid sport participation I believe it’s a parent’s responsibility to strongly encourage daily physical activity as the healthy alternative. Parents do need to provide some guidance, however they also need to listen to what their children want. I strongly believe that children should be exposed to many different athletic activities rather than be focused on specialization in one sport too early. It is very difficult to determine where the individual’s athletic strengths and weaknesses will be while the child is still very young. Not all children excel at the same speed. Some don’t develop to their full potential until later in high school or even in college. There is so much benefit for a child to participate in different sports and experience being a member of several different teams as they become teenagers. Young people who like competing and playing sports will eventually—perhaps in high school, or perhaps after high school—gravitate toward a specific sport, however they should not be discouraged from playing a secondary sport in order to achieve success in their primary sport.

Parents also should be supportive of their children’s coaches and teammates. Younger athletes develop a much healthier attitude toward their coaches and teammates if their parents help them understand the roles of coaches as mentors, teachers, and or authority figures. An athlete who develops a healthy and unselfish team attitude will enjoy participating and competing as a team member much more than one who puts his/her own needs ahead of those of the team. Whatever the outlook or behavior illustrates you can bet it’s been learned from somewhere and most likely learned at home.

It’s very important parents understand that hard work does not guarantee that their young athlete will become a professional athlete, earn a college athletic scholarship, or even compete in college sports. I do not believe in giving awards for 5th and 6th place either. It sends the wrong message about self-esteem mental game development, competition, hard work, and sportsmanship. God-given athletic ability plays a significant role in determining the ultimate development of an athlete, but hard work in lieu of god given talent can be an incredible character builder. Even a high school athlete who devotes his/her efforts into one sport throughout the entire year is not guaranteed a starting position ahead of those who play multiple sports or are less dedicated in the off-season. A multi-sport athlete becomes a multi-dimensional athlete and is far better equipped to deal with adversity than one who specializes too early in their lives and misses the opportunity to explore alternative sports.

I know most parents love their children unconditionally, but sometimes parents don’t see that driving sport specialization too early is more about them than about their child’s development and enjoyment. Their children should not feel as though they have to succeed or excel in athletics in order to get approval from their parents. A very small percentage of young athletes get the opportunity to continue competing after high school, and even fewer become professionals. In the end its’ most important they walk away from sports participation with a solid outlook on their achievements and a sense of enjoyment. If so they will continue participating into adulthood and pass it on to others.

The bottom line message parent’s should consider is that by giving their children the opportunity to experience more than one sport during their preteen and teen years the better equipped they will be to excel in sports when they do ultimately decide become more specialized. Secondly, the more sports they have the opportunity to experience early in life the more they are likely to give the same opportunity to their own kids.

If you have any questions about how sports specialization and would like some help sorting through the decisions about sport specialization please reach out to me through Ask Coach John at

Tags: Confidence, Enjoyment, Self-Esteem, Leadership

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