October 9, 2015

Pressure Sports Kids, and They Might Drop Out of Sports Altogether

One of our readers, a caring sports mom, has this confession to make: “I am guilty! I am a frustrated but well-meaning mother who has put pressure to perform on my children.”

This is an important realization for this sports mom. She understands that pressure from parents does not help young athletes succeed. In fact, it can cause kids to lose confidence and drop out of sports.

Read on, and you’ll discover that’s exactly what’s happening in this family’s case—and how to avoid this sports mom’s situation.

The mother of two young athletes says that she’s been exerting pressure on her youngest daughter for two reasons: First, the young athlete dreams of playing basketball in college and—second—the mom doesn’t want her daughter to quit basketball, like her older sister did.

To sum it up, the older daughter had a bad experience with a coach who seemed to favor his own daughters. The older daughter quit the team. Now the younger daughter has the same coach, and she’s sitting on the bench.

“So to compensate, I pressured her to work harder, thinking that would help, but it’s only made things worse. She’s lost her confidence and is now believing the coach when he says she doesn’t have what it takes.”

The youngest, who won awards in basketball last year, has said she wants to quit basketball altogether–unless her mother attends all the practices!

This is clearly a difficult situation. However, as this mother now realizes, pressuring her daughter to perform better was not the answer.

As we’ve explained before, it’s critical for parents and coaches to recognize the difference between helping kids achieve their goals, which aren’t cast in stone, and pressuring them to perform.

When you have high expectations for your kids, it often feels like pressure to them. In this case, this well-meaning mother’s expectation that her youngest daughter excel in the face of huge challenges–a difficult coach who favored his own kids–certainly was a lot of pressure.

It probably felt to the daughter like she was expected to achieve the impossible.

When young athletes experience these kinds of expectations, they get frustrated and lose confidence when they don’t meet the expectations. As we’ve explained before, losing confidence never boosts a young athlete’s performance.

Remember, too, that even at the high school level, some kids participate in sports to be with friends and to have fun. Before you decide how and where your kids should play sports, be sure to check in with them first.

Don’t make any assumptions. It’s important for you to understand why they’re playing and what level of play they want to participate in.

One coach we know asks his new players and parents to separately complete a survey. The survey asks both kids and parents what they expect the young athlete to get out of sports.

This is a good idea. It gives the coach some perspective about expectations and potential conflicts between the athlete’s and the parent’s expectations.

Want to learn more about how to improve kids’ confidence and your sports parenting skills? At Kids’ Sports Psychology, we have loads of resources for you. If you’re already an exclusive Kids’ Sports Psychology member, you can access our resources for free.

You’ll gain access to e-books and audios that address these topics (and more):

  • Growing From Adversity: How to Stay Confident after Failure (e-book for sports kids)
  • Improve Young Athletes’ Motivation with Goal Achievement (e-book for parents)
  • How Can Parents Boost Confidence? (video)

But that’s not all. At Kids’ Sports Psychology, you can download more than 17 e-books—some written for parents and some specifically for sports kids.

You can also access audio and video programs and articles that help you and your young athletes get the most out of their physical talent.

Learn how to avoid pressuring your kids and how to ensure they stay in sports!

Kids’ Sports Psychology


Patrick Cohn, Ph.D. and Lisa Cohn

P.S. If you’re already a Kids’ Sports Psychology member, you can visit this page to view our e-book that helps kids focus. Helping kids learn how to focus is a great way to help them deal with difficult situations like the young athlete’s discussed in this letter:

Focus to the Max! Concentration Tips For Sports Kids


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