November 29, 2015

When Talented Kids with Bad Attitudes Get More Playing Time

One of our readers recently asked a great question: Why do hard-working, less talented kids generally get less playing time than the talented athletes who have not-so-great work ethics and attitudes?

“My son plays ice hockey and is a goalie,” says our reader, a sports dad. “He is small but very hard working and admittedly less talented than the team’s other goalie but not greatly.”

“The biggest difference between the two goalies is commitment and attitude. The other goalie hasn’t completed a single dry land practice the entire season (five months) and complains and talks back to coaches almost every practice.”

But guess what? The back-talking kid who doesn’t always come to practice gets more playing time–especially during big games.

This is a very common issue for athletes and coaches. Here’s what’s happening:

Kids with talent often are more confident. They trust in their abilities–especially during big games.

Coaches can trust these kids to get the job done and are more likely to play them. Sure, some coaches are willing to reward hard work with playing time–but not always.

Of course, this doesn’t seem fair. But it offers a learning opportunity for sports kids.

In this situation, what should well-meaning sports parents do? How can they turn this difficult situation into a life lesson?

It’s okay to begin with a conversation with the coach. Don’t accuse or blame the coach. Be polite and curious. Simply ask the coach what your young athletes need to do in order to get more playing time.

Help your kids understand what the coach is looking for. Be sure the athletes want to work on the skills identified by the coach. Don’t pressure sports kids into doing things they don’t want to do.

Once the athletes have worked on improving their skills, it’s time to focus on how to transfer those skills to a game or competition. This is where we come in…

Being more confident in the game and having trust in one’s skills is key, and this is where the important learning comes in.

Your young athletes need to trust what they learned in practice. This will help them play with more confidence. As we mentioned above, coaches often reward this type of player.

For example, just before a game or competition, help your young athletes get into the “performance mindset.” Help them let go of their thoughts about technique…how they stand or shoot, for example.

They need to trust their instincts, simply react and be more creative. They shouldn’t analyze their performance. Just do it!

They also need to keep high expectations in check. You don’t want them going into a game thinking they are going to score or win big. Instead, they need to focus on process goals. They need to focus on what’s happening at the moment—the next shot, kick or pass.

You’ll be surprised how much these and other tips help boost kids’ confidence before games. Here’s what one sports parent said about Kids’ Sports Psychology:

“Using your resources from the Kids Sports Psychology website, especially the worksheets, my son became much calmer and more focused during competition – he was able to ‘close the book’ and perform instead of worrying what others thought.”

~ Jane, sports parent

Want to learn more about how to help young athletes perform well in games, improve their confidence and make the most out of their physical abilities?

At Kids’ Sports Psychology, we offer an e-book that will help you. It’s called “Twelve Pre-game Tips to Help Kids Trust What They’ve Learned in Practice.”

Help your sports kids excel during games and reap all the physical, emotional and social benefits of taking part 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 download the e-book, “Twelve Pre-game Tips to Help Kids Trust What They’ve Learned in Practice”

P.P.S. In response to feedback from our members, we’ve added an important feature to Kids’ Sports Psychology: a guide that explains how you can make the most of the website and our 10-step program. The guide tells you where to start, which resources are for kids, which are for parents, and which are for coaches. If you’re already a Kids’ Sports Psychology member, you can access the guide by clicking here:

Kids’ Sports Psychology User Guide


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