October 4, 2015

What Motivates Kids (Without Pressuring Them)?

“My young athlete seems to love sports, but just doesn’t apply himself. I remind him every day to practice more and concentrate more, but that doesn’t work. How can I motivate him?”

This is a question we often get from parents. They say their kids love sports, are eager to go to games, but seem to spend a lot of time fooling around during practice. Or they don’t like to practice.

What should parents and coaches do in this case?

First of all, you need to understand why your kids are playing sports in the first place. Keep in mind that they may be participating for different reasons than your reasons for wanting them to participate.

Talk to your kids–and observe them–to better understand why they like playing sports.

They often like participating because they want to be with friends. They like the social aspect and part of being a team. Or they may like competing. Or they may simply like the coach and want to spend time with him or her.

Once you understand why your kids are participating in sports, try to tap into those reasons…

Provide situations that your child will enjoy–playing in the park with friends–if they’re in it for the social aspect, for example. Or you might arrange neighborhood games if your child likes to compete. This will help provide the social support they need.

Be sure to separate your reasons for wanting them to play sports with their reasons for wanting to play…

For example, you may want your kids to play to get exercise. Or you may want them to play because you hope they’ll get a scholarship some day. On the other hand, they may want to play because they like being outdoors after school, or because a best friend is on the team.

Nagging kids to practice can backfire. It won’t support their own reasons for participating in sports. If they succumb to parental pressure, they’ll be playing for you–not for themselves.

That won’t lead to a positive experience. You want the drive to participate to come from within–not from you.

Want to learn more about how and why young athletes feel motivated?

At Kids’ Sports Psychology, exclusive members have access to our e-book, “Motivate Young Athletes in Sports and Life,” which identifies how motivated kids behave, explains what kinds of situations undermine kids’ motivation, and tells parents and coaches what to do to motivate young athletes.

And that’s not all that exclusive KSP members get. They gain access to our complete library of e-books— some written for parents and coaches, others specifically for sports kids.

Also available are videos, articles, Question-And-Answers and audio interviews with youth sports experts.

What do people say about our resources?

“I especially like the mental game videos that my son can watch alone or we can watch together. The videos
help to reinforce all the concepts we have learned together. I think the pre-game stuff is cool and the lessons on confidence, coping with doubt, and trust are worth their weight in gold.”
~Dr. Adam Glantzman


Lisa Cohn and Patrick Cohn, Ph.D.

P.S. We’ve got some great tips for helping you deal with the frustrating challenge of motivating sports
kids in our “Motivate Young Athletes in Sports and Life” e-book. If you’re an exclusive Kids’ Sports Psychology member, download it here:

Motivate Young Athletes in Sports and Life



  1. Richard Samuel says:

    I really liked the fact that immediately this blog talked about how important it is to remember why kids are playing sports in the first place. Being an athlete my whole life I know how time consuming it is and how sometimes a kid may not want to participate but it is important for parents to remember that their kids are there for a reason. I like how it talks about using their time with friends to help kids be motivated to play. It was important for me to see that as a future coach I need to focus on why the kids are playing not my own desire to either win, or succeed. The importance should be based on the kids learning teamwork, discipline and so many other things. Also, I realized I need to listen to the athlete sometimes they may need a break and pushing them to hard may not actually help it may hinder. I really enjoyed this blog.

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