November 21, 2014

Confessions of a Sports Mom Who Fueled Her Son’s Perfectionism

Lisa Cohn here from The Ultimate Sports Parent. I’m here to make a confession…

When my son was in 9th grade, he’d often begin a basketball game with sky-high expectations. He was generally a successful player, and coaches and peers expected a lot from him. He excelled at making three-point shots.

Often, he wanted to break his own record and hit five three-point shots in one game. Or he expected to be the high scorer-and the top rebounder. He’d often tell me about what he expected of himself while we were driving to a game.

I’d stupidly-I learned later–encourage him to embrace such high expectations. If he aimed for five three-point shots, I’d say, “Come on, you can sink six!” (Until I recruited my brother–a sports-psychology expert–to get involved, I didn’t realize I was goofing up here in a big way.)

Anyway, while we were in the car, my son didn’t complain much about the way I pushed him.  However, during the game, if he made two or three mistakes in the first few minutes, he’d tense up. He’d stop shooting and play scared. I could see that his main aim was to avoid making mistakes, rather than making the best of his creativity and talent.

My son is not alone. My brother, Patrick, and I receive many emails from parents who offer similar observations about their young athletes.

My son-and the young athletes of the parents who write us–displays the classic behavior of a perfectionist. In my son’s case, he’d have high demands for his performance, and then if he couldn’t meet them, he’d become frustrated. He’d get scared about making mistakes.

This would cause him to tense up, perform tentatively, and under-perform.

As a sports parent, I obviously had no clue at the time about how to deal with him. I made the mistake of fueling his perfectionism. I’d yell, “Shoot!” from the sidelines. When he came out of the game at the end of a quarter, I’d ask him what was up. “Why aren’t you sinking your trademark three-pointers?” I’d ask. So would other parents on the team.

“Those three pointers are like money in the bank,” one parent liked to say about my son’s shooting. When he heard these comments, my son would only expect more from himself. This often led to additional frustration.

We want to help other parents with perfectionist sports kids, like my son. I know there are a lot of them out there because I see them everyday while I’m watching my kids play sports.

I have asked my brother, Patrick, to help me develop “mental game” solutions for sports parents. I figure we’d make a great team. We collaborated on The Ultimate Sports Parent CD program. I’m a sports mom and stepmom to four young athletes (with one more future sports kid due in June), and I specialize in writing about parenting.

Patrick (or you may know him as Dr. Cohn) is a sports psychology expert. He has been coaching athletes for years on mental game skills. He says he has some ideas about how to help my son and others like him. He just has to carve out some time in his busy schedule.

As we work to develop solutions, I would like your input – if you are a parent of a “perfectionist” who’s afraid to make mistakes or if you coach this type of young athlete.

Please leave an anonymous comment below. Tell us all about your challenges you face with perfectionists as a parent or coach.

Are your young athletes afraid of failing? What are their fears about failing? Do they expect too much of themselves? Do they become easily frustrated? How do you try to cope with these challenges?

Sincerely,

Lisa Cohn

YouthSportsPsychology.com

p.s. Please use the form below to post your comments>>

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Comments

  1. I am so guilty of this. My daughter does competition cheerleading. This is her first year on the high school varsity team- the only freshman chosen for varsity. She has been doing comp cheerleading for 8 years but always with girls her own age. She completely lacks confidence in herself and her tumbling skills. And I am so frustrated with this whole situation, I am constantly on her about it which only makes it worse when she goes to perform. I have no idea how to begin to get my daughter help so she can become more confident in herself and her ability and I need to back off.

  2. Wow, this hits home Lisa. My 14 year old Freshman sounds a lot like your son. He’s got all the talent and potential in the world, one of the best freshman guards in our state. He knows there’s a lot riding on his ability to score and help his team win games, but once he has a turnover, misses a shot, etc… he has a hard time recovering. AND, I don’t help! It’s all we talk about sometimes. What’s going through his head, why he’s playing scared, why he’s not taking easy shots, why he made the bad pass, the list goes on and on. Afterwards I ask myself, why do I put so much pressure on him?? Why do I take it so personally when he makes a mistake??? Why do I care what the other parents think or say? He’s a freshman on the Varsity team! He’s bound to make some mistakes! But, I still continue to make the same mistake over and over again by drawing attention to the things he’s done wrong, instead of highlighting his successes and helping him get beyond the mental games he plays with himself. I make it worse, I know I do. I’m not quite sure what the answer is. It’s like a terrible cycle. He makes a mistake, he starts playing scared, we leave and critique the game from start to finish and then we start all over again the next game. It seems like the hole is getting deeper and deeper. I’m really not sure what to do from here to change my behavior and hopefully having a positive impact on him.

    Thanks for spotlighting this issue. It’s a big one!

  3. Lisa, I am the result of a perfectionist child who always had confidence issues. I did play college golf and became an all-american, but only after I got away from my fathers’ ever criticizing ways. So here I am a mother of a perfectionist son who is so very talented. He absolutely loves to win. I try my hardest not to fuel the fire, I definitely do not focus on his mistakes. My husband (who was a former college baseball pitcher) and I try to tell him all we ask is that when he comes to play he gives 100% nothing more nothing less. but when he does not meet his own expectations he shuts down. It drives us crazy. He is only nine but my greatest fear is that he will loose the love for competition when things aren’t so easy and other kids are better than he is. My son is a great encourager of other kids and is so happy when his teammates do well. So my question is we do not care if he wins or looses but we have a hard time when he does not play to his potential. But He does not play to his potential when things don’t go his way. so how to stop the cycle?

  4. My husband and I wonder if we have created a monster in our daughter. She’s 14, 8th grade and very excited about playing sports (soccer and basketball) for her high school next year. We have always encouraged her to do her best and having been the leading scorer in basketball since she was in 4th grade, expected alot from her I guess, as do her coaches. We have given her every opportunity we can to make sure she is able to follow her dreams of playing college ball (either sport). Camps, competitive teams, etc. We realized just recently we never taught her the ability to deal with the pressures that come with her abilities. Neither one of us were ever really athletic, at least not at her level. I have read tons of your articles, blogs and some books to learn how to help her, but her attitude toward teammates, refs and coaches is getting out of hand. And do you think she wants to listen to Mom and Dad at this age? She gets frustrated with herself and is beginning to take it out on everyone. She believes she has to take everything on herself and once she makes a mistake in a game, she shuts down, which is getting more and more frequent. She has gone from leading scorer to be lucky to make a basket or goal during a game. She now has an excellent club soccer coach who has been there, done that. My husband and I have talked with the Coach and she is willing to work with our daughter on the mental part of the game. I know that the high school coaches will not put up with the attitude and she is too talented and determined to let it all go to waste. We need to get her past this before she gets there. I am hoping that she will respond to someone that isn’t Mom and Dad. Meanwhile Mom and Dad are working hard to make sure we don’t put any more pressure on her than she already puts on herself. There should be required training for parents before you sign your child up for that first team. :-)

  5. This sounds EXACTLY like my son, only he’s 10. He plays on a competitive soccer team and splits his time between goalie and forward. He is an amazing and very talented goalie, but hates playing that position -too much pressure Same thing, if he misses a few and lets some goals score, he shuts down. He doesn’t take criticism well and is very hard on himself. He is a natural athlete, but lacks the mental toughness many sports require. He is the same way with baseball. We have tried different approaches and strategies, but nothing seems to work. We try and place more emphasis on effort then end results. I would LOVE to receive some feedback and advice on how to deal with the “perfectionist” kid, and stop this cycle.

  6. I have read the other posts and it all sounds so familiar. I have a 13 yr old lv 9 gymnast who is also very talented. She works very hard and gets upset when her teamates are not focused. The skills she has been working on are very difficult and take much concentration. She gets so nervous before a competition and if one skill is missed she loses her confidence. I encourage her to do her mental choreography prior to meets but she is inconsistant about it and gets upset if I push to much. I never know how much is too much. I remind her about the goals she has set for herself and how she plans to achieve them. I try hard to get her to come up with the solutions so I don’t have to take the heat. Very challenging at times. I would also appreciate any “tips” to help the perfectionist kid.

  7. I too have a gymnast who is also a perfectionist. She is 9 and has only been doing competitive gymnastics for a few years, but she is extremely hard on herself, and becomes frustrated when she does not perform well. After a fall on beam she has also developed fear issues and that is also negatively impacting her performance and progress. This is really upsetting to her and I’d love to know how I can help her to get past this.

  8. It seems like everyone here has kids who are playing at a high level. Perhaps that is part of the problem and we should consider toning it down a bit. It sounds like the kids physical development is further along than their mental development and it’s hard to develop confidence if they are being pushed to play at the highest levels. They are ripe for buring out.

    My 9 year old daughter is a good soccer player. She was asked to play at the competitive level. We talked to a very good former college player who said to keep her at the level where she can continue to score goals and play with confidence. Some might say that we are hurting her chances at future success but we believe that she will emerge when she is ready.

    So just because someone can play at a high level doesn’t mean that they necessarily should. They may be better for it in the long run. Food for thought…

  9. I’m afraid in my case the damage has already been done. My son is now 16 and has played competitive golf for about 6 years. This past year he practiced constantly, had a pretty good July, but by August he just started to post high numbers and lose confidence. We tried giving him weekly lessons, but every time I knew there was a competition coming up, I know I probably put too much pressure on him. After a pretty difficult tournament in early September, he put his clubs down, and hasn’t picked them up since. He now has decided he doesn’t want to play on the varsity team this Spring, which I know will definitely affect the team. He told us he will still play in the summer, but doesn’t want to compete nearly as much.
    I’m torn by this. I feel that his perfectionist ways and him being so hard on himself is part of it, but I think I’m also a big part in why he has quit the sport almost entirely. It may be too late to change anything, but I’d like to still read about this topic.
    On a good note, he has decided to try out for the track team. I think he feels that there won’t be any pressure on him to perform well, there aren’t any expectations because no one really knows yet if he’ll be successful in track. Does this make sense?

  10. My husband is a perfectionist both at work and in sports and expects perfection from our son who is a 15 yr old motocross racer. While our son has his own high expectations, my husband thinks he should be more like him and push, push, push to be better. I think our son is on the right track, but he is fearful he wont meet up to my husband expectations of him when he is racing or practicing. The level of competion our son is in is extremely hard, but his passion for racing keeps him going. I just dont know how to get my husband to ease up and let him excel on his own. It is so bad right now my son does not even want his dad to come to his races. As a mother, I want our son to excel, but I also want to see a better father/son relationship.

  11. Denis Coen says:

    Hi lisa

    Denis here all the way from little Ireland. Can i first say that i really enjoy the website and am a big follower of your brother’s work. I love receiving all the tips and emails on sports psychology. After reading the article can I just say that I have been envolved in competitive sport all my life and fortunately my parents never interfered. I found that I exceled in competitive sport but never became obsessed with it. I really really enjoyed the participating and the friendship of my team mates and winning was always a major bonus especially big finals. I would always try to play with a smile on my face though this was not always the case. What I did learn from watching players whos parents were heavily envolved was that they often developed the fear of losing and performing poorly. They also seemed to be the players that froze on big occasions because of what they thought their parents would think and indeed what other spectators thought also. I feel parents and coaches must encourage players to not try to out do other athletes but instead to focus on and enjoy their own improvement. Its about “Being ones Best”. With this approcach they can accomplish intrinsic motivation and enjoy the activity at the same time applying maximun effort.
    Remember what legendary basketball coach John Wooden said “Success is a peace of mind that comes from knowing that you done your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. No one can do no more”. If an athlete uses this approach winning usually takes care of itself.

  12. HI Lisa,

    As a golf teaching professional I can totally relate to these stories of young athletes and their sometimes pushy, perfectionist parents that are “trying to help” their child. In the end, they are destroying their child’s natural state of play and producing fear of failure, embarrasment, worry, anxiousness and more. Your website is fascinating and full of great stories for parents and coaches to learn from. I truly believe that perfectionism is a VERY big problem in today’s world of sports. Thank you to you and your brother for the research and concern to help others in this very important matter. I’m anxious to read more and pass it on to others.

  13. Hi all.
    It is very interesting reading all of these posts. I was a competative athlete and I was a coach for a few years. Anyways, dealing with disappointment can be tough for athletes who know they can perform better. I would say that it is important to stress the independence of the athlete and try to get him\her to realize that external events should not affect you negatively internally. I know it sounds strange, because people say “then why do you even play sports if nothing can affect you”. But teaching kids to get their own innner stength is difficult and complicated, and it requires parents and coaches to have their own inner strength as well. You can’t teach something that you don’t know anything about.
    To me, inner strength means realizing making the varsity as a freshman or being the leading scorer on the team is good and fun, but once we NEED it to get self value then we lose control of our own inner selves and that leads to unhappiness and self-doubt and all things bad. So, being a great athlete is only good if it aids us in our own inner dialogue. That is why perfectionist kids get burnt out, being a perfectionist is not good because it leads to abnormally high expectations and, ultimately, failure in life.
    However, if an athlete can learn to set healthy goals and enjoy the process and learn from his/her mistakes, then they get invaluable life skills at having a productive and fun life. But I have to always remind myself that it is internal happiness first, then external results later.

  14. Lisa,

    This sounds like a great asset for coaches, as well. I’m a coach of a Division I college golf program and from time to time, I get young men who possess a lot of the traits you talk about. They’ve spent all these years building up these issues and only have 4 years of college golf. It’s always been difficult to get them to release all the expectations and just play the game. The sooner I can get them to ‘let go’ the sooner they can play to their ability. I always encourage them to leave the course knowing they stayed in the game mentally regardless of how the score comes out and hold their head high. Getting away from score and just taking it a shot at a time is hard for some of them to understand because of the items in the ‘Perfectionist Video.’ I’m looking forward to this program helping me to help them get over this crutch and allow them to play to their ability and, ultimately, enjoy the ‘competitive game’ again.

  15. My concern is for my son (a sophomore in H.S.). He is a wonderful athlete and has competed on the golf and basketball teams. My first concern is he wants to concentrate on golf and give up basketball (I think it is better to play as many different sports as possible). When he plays golf he has very high expectations. He is self motivated to work on his game but I think he is really too hard on himself when he doesn’t perform well. I tried to help him understand that golf is going to have its ups and down and he needs to be more even keeled. My fear is I don’t want to sound like mediocrity is OK. I don’t know how to achieve that balance between encouraging him to do his best and letting him know its OK to make mistakes.

  16. Lisa,

    Your article states how you and other parents were asking the player why his shots weren’t falling, they were like money in the bank. I think these comments are made to try to keep or get back the players confidence. You hear tv commentators talking about the “shooters mentality” that belief that the next one is going in. If you miss a couple that just means the odds are getting greater that the next one is going in.
    I grew up playing baseball and after baseball came golf. One thing that really was really stressed in professional baseball was mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. We are humans. We don’t try to make an error, we don’t want to make an error, but we will make errors. What was stressed was we are going to make physical errors but we don’t want to make mental errors; not covering our base, throwing to the wrong base not knowing how many outs, not knowing the speed of the runners or the strength of the arms of the fielders ect.
    The test has to be how soon do we forget about the physical error. We miss the ground ball (physical) ok now don’t make the (mental) error of trying to pick the ball up rush a throw to the base and making a bad throw.

  17. My son wants to concentrate on one sport, golf (he plays on the basketball team). I see him struggle with perfectionism. He is very hard on himself and wants to hit perfect shots every time. When I have tried to introduce the benefits of a better mental game he has shown no interest in it. He is self motivated and practices hard but so far has rejected the idea of a better mental game. How do I get him to at least consider it??

  18. Hi,

    My 10 1/2 year old son is in the midst of his winter training session for his travel baseball team. Yesterday at practice, I took him and met my husband there. I got sick to my stomache when I saw my son get really frustrated at himself when doing a hitting drill. This is the first time they had done this drill this training session. He didn’t get any good hits. It just made me realize that not much has changed with him. We keep hoping that he’s going to grow out of it. He doesn’t like to discuss this fear of messing up with us.

    My husband had always coached him until he got on this travel team, against my beter judgement. It was time for my son to have another man for a coach besides Dad because of that father/son relationship. My husband has always moved him up to the next level a bit before maybe his age allowed, because of his ability. But, he has always shown mental immaturity when it comes to dealing with not being perfect. He has never been able to handle things like “walking” someone. He is a pitcher. Sure, he has these games from time to time that are absolutely on fire. He has pitched no hitters and all is well with him. But, most of the time, in the real world, you aren’t going to be able to perform so well all of the time. He expects it all of the time. He NEVER wants to talk about anything.

    I don’t know what to do. We took him to see some kind of therapist one time a couple of years ago and she was useless. It wasn’t the right thing to do for him. I am sick thinking about the next season. I hate to say that, but it is so painful for me to watch him not having fun with things aren’t going well. More and more, he’s just not playing well. It’s getting harder to witness. I don’t know what to do. It really tears me up.

    Although my husband never talks to him about his mistakes in a negative manner. I think in the past, when my son was younger, he was guilty, like many others, of talking about the mistakes in the car on the way home a bit too much. Maybe not focusing on all of the positives enough. I do not want to blame my husband either. They are actually both perfectionist to a degree. I don’t know how any of that, however, effected my son.

    Now, my husband knows to not say a word and we are at our wits end. My son has all of the physical abilities in the world, but until he gets the mental thing down, I feel he will always have great difficulty with baseball. He says he wants to play although it doesn’t appear that he is having fun, most of the time during games.

    He is a gifted student in school but he is not as a perfectionist when it comes to school. Things come pretty easy for him with acedemics.

    He plays basketball for our church league and my husband coaches. He performs well and doesn’t show nearly as much frustration with himself although my husband declares he still will glare at him after a mistake. Of course, he always looks at Dad to see what his expression is. I think in baseball, your errors are more exposed, and that is what makes it different. Also, he knows what he is capable of and that is frustrating for him.

    He has also had Sever’s Disease in his feet for the past couple of years. It’s getting better now, thank goodness, but that has had a huge impact on his lack of confidence.

    His baseball coach wants to help him work through it because everyone knows his pitching potential when he’s on, but we are worried for our son. We just want the best for him. I don’t know where to turn. I am dreading the season. I just want to be able to go to his game and enjoy watching him and not feel so nervous.

    Sorry for writing so much. If you read this entire message, you must have some advice for me or be in a similar state????

    Thank you!!

  19. Hi Lisa!
    Obviously this is a hot issue with parents of athletes. I have a perfectionist athlete. In the beginning it was great because his perfectionism fueled him to be better. The quote he has in his room: “Perfect practice makes practice perfect” gives you an idea of his expectations. He is a QB which is a pressure-filled position in itself. Upon entering his freshman year and competing for the job against a dozen gifted QB’s the fracture in his confidence caused by his perfectionism began to show. He wouldn’t ‘step up’ he was so fearful of making mistakes he thought it was better to fly below the radar and let others dictate his success or failure. Thank God he had an astute head coach who pulled him aside and said, “Look, I don’t care if you throw 10 interceptions in a row. I believe in you and I want you to be the guy. Just relax.” This small statement made ALL the difference in the world. The coach actually gave my son permission to make mistakes!! As a result, he won the highly sought after job and has continued to make great strides in improving his confidence which allows him to take risks and win the big games.

  20. I can completely relate to what Nina describes above. My son plays on a competitive 12U travel baseball team and he is really struggling with the same issues. He is extremely talented athlete but does not play to his potential. The coaches put a lot of pressure on him and he puts a lot of pressure on himself by the fact that if he makes a mistake in the field or has a bad “at bat” he gets placed on the bench. It is a vicious cycle as the more pressure, the less he is able to perform and then he sits on the bench which he does not want. If we try to talk to him about it, he gets defensive and angry and he is so hard on himself. How can we help him? I fear he may decide to no longer play the sport he so loves.

  21. sam Wilson says:

    Hello,
    I have a son who is 14 and has played baseball for three years. My son is sometimes emotional but I think ( actually accept that I am) the problem. My son is a high achiever in academics but funny enough I never push him at all…only in baseball??

    My son started baseball and quickly became one of the better players and this is a curse with me because when he does not play well I question him on every aspect of the game he just played. The truth is that I worry more about what other families and players will think of my sons performance than I do about my sons feelings….I am not proud of this.
    My son has reached amazing heights in baseball in the past three years but I am ruining his love of the game and he looks nervous when he plays and lately has been making simple errors….he has lost his confidence and looks unhappy when he plays. I have known that I am ruining the relationship but can not stop so I asked my son if he would rather NOT have me at his games watching…..you guessed it after a bit of talking he asked me not to watch him play or practice.

    I was happy that he had the courage to say this to me, and will respect his wishes.
    I would like to also say that when I talk to him after a poor game I do say awful thing for example he was crap!! Also, I say things like ‘you waste my time and the coaches time…..as I write this I realise I am a bully and abusive and it will stop. I do not want sympathy for my behavior I just want to help heal the damage I have done to my son.
    DO YOU THINK HE WILL RECOVER?? I hope so because I messed up and I have already told my son how sorry I am. To all of you out there I was a fool please do not do what I have done I am so ashamed.
    Warmest regards, Sam

  22. Patrick Cohn says:

    Sam:

    Thanks for your honesty about your behavior with your son’s sport. It is good that you are recognizing your challenges and this as this is the first step to changing your sports parenting behavior. The next step is to act – to improve your behavior and support your son’s confidence as best you can!

    Patrick Cohn
    http://www.peaksports.com

  23. Jennifer says:

    My daughter can’t stand not to be the best at everything that she does. She plays softball, tennis and gymnastics. If she has an off day or makes a mistake, she gets so mad at herself. I have tried to explain that even the pros make mistakes and that it is part of the game, but she won’t hear any of it. Lately, it seems after every practice she has, no matter what the sport, she comes out unhappy, mad or crying. I have told her that if she isn’t enjoying that sport, she could stop or discontinue the lessons. She says she doesn’t want to stop, but she never seems to enjoy it. I have even had coaches ask me if she’s not enjoying the sport. It really is kind of embarassing. I don’t know how to handle it. I just want her to have fun and enjoy her sports. She puts so much pressure on herself to be the best. What is a parent to do?

  24. I wish I would’ve found this website 3-4 years ago. My problem has been in dealing with a very talented baseball player who–unlike most of the kids being discussed in this forum–doesn’t live or die for playing baseball. My struggle has always been to try and encourage him to make the most of his talent and motivate him w/o repelling him and having him drop the sport altogether.

    At ages 12 & 13 he had an 80-mph fastball and was the best player in his league and with a gentle push and a little persuasion could be talked into playing on “in-house” travel teams (where he was successful) that would play an extra 12-15 games a season over-and-above the regular rec league. He wanted NO part of any of the local travel teams that played 50-60 games a year and I never made that an issue.

    I’m by no means the embodiment of the archetypal “Little League Parent” but on the other hand I do love baseball. I would have no problem with my son’s lack of enthusiasm if his ability was more borderline or if he had some other enthusiasm or area that he loved–he’s a mediocre student, showed some talent for music but quickly gave it up when it became clear that regular work and practice was required, and basically lives for the ol’ computer and video games (and no, he’s hardly some type of computer whiz or techno geek).

    Now, at 16, after continuing to compete successfully on the high school level (school of about 2,800 in a conference of comparably-sized schools), being told by several people with baseball experience at the college and minor league-level(they approached me)that he had real ability for better things, it looks like he’s pretty much decided he wants no more part of the sport. Again, I’ve tried not to be overbearing and give him space, but I just can’t understand why someone would not naturally gravitate toward an area in which they experience success and get all kinds of good feedback and positive vibes from both peers and adults. I’m trying to cope with the fact that he’s probably going to–using a biblical allusion–choose to hide this particular light under a bushel basket, but I just don’t get it. Anybody in this group who has experience with this problem??

  25. Patrick Cohn says:

    Hi Larry:

    Thanks for your honest post. Sometimes talented kids feel like their talent is a noose around their neck because they feel burdened by expectations from others. The more successful they are, the more pressure they feel from others to carry the team, be the star, or get a scholarship, for example. It’s almost like a fear of success. With success, comes greater responsibility – that maybe he was not ready for.

    The hardest thing for a sports parent is to see their young athlete not use their talent to its fullest.

    Patrick Cohn
    http://www.peaksports.com

  26. HI, My 9 year old son has been gifted with a natural athletic ability. My husband and I have been aware of this gift for many years, fast twitch muscles; extremely quick and strong; and cordination skills that at times have seem next to impossible to own. For example last summer during the summer olympics he was watching the gymnast, the very next day I came home from work and he asked me to come watch him outside. He than stood barefoot on the grass and did a standing back flip and landed it and than in one motion continued on to do another one. He also has had the gift of not realizing the pressure and expectations that were being set on him. He just loved to play and it came so natural that he always had fun. Last spring he moved up a league in baseball and was playing little league with kids 2 years older than him, at the end of the season the coach commented that he was their best player not all due to his performance but because he always gave a 150%. During pracitces he never complained it was never work to him he practiced like he was playing in a league game. However we are recently seeing a change in our son during his games whether it be baseball, basketball, soccer ect.. he has become very sensitve and cries easily in regards to his own performances. My husband and I are very competitive and love watching him play sports haveing said that I believe we are very careful not to put pressure on Jensen and encourage him to work hard but ultimitly have fun. Unfortunatly our oldest son now 16 was our pracitce child and we made many mistakes when it came to his performance on the court and field. we have since been very carefull not to make the same mistakes with our 9 year old. However I cant help but feeling we may still be missing the boat here. Jensen has started crying if he makes mistakes and quickly gives up on
    himself. We tell him everyone makes mistakes and thats ok but it doesnt seem to console him in the least. I believe he has high expectations of his performances as well as coaches and other parents. Due to not seeing any results with our current method My husband has now taking the stance we are to soft with him and he needs to be told to stop crying and toughen up. I believe we need to find a way to help our son deal with his own expectations on a mental level. He has the talent but lacks the ability to be ok with not always performing to his standards. Any input about this would be more than welcomed!

    Thanks, Alllison

  27. You are correct. His expectations are getting in the way of having fun. With success, usually high expectations will follow. So you have to help him manage his expectations and replace with more manageable objective on the field.

    Patrick Cohn

  28. I need some advice, my son is a 14 yr old 8th grader, a very good athlete…and excels in several sports. He has really taken to lacrosse, and recently tried out for one of the top U15 lacrosse teams in the state. He made the first 3 cuts, and yesterday was the last cut. They said they would be notifying via email if the kid made it or not…….so far nothing. However he found out, that a friend of his got the email and he was devastated. I had never seen him like this…he was incosolable. I didn’t even know he possessed this in his personality! He was crying for nearly 2 hours..it was so heartbreaking. Finally he came out of the “trance” he was in and finally was able to talk for a few minutes before falling asleep. This morning he woke up feeling and sounding better, and went off to school. He plays football and called from his game that he scored a touchdown and sounded much happier and more upbeat…those kids, gotta hand it to them; they are so resilient. Meanwhile, I was a mess…feeling horrible for him. How do we handle ourselves when we feel as vulnerable as they are when they have to deal with rejection at a high level of sports competition? This I think was a first for him, he has pretty much made almost every team he has ever tried out for..and this just hit him hard. When he says things like “I am not playing for any other team,etc” do I just sit there and nod, and not play into it and let him come to me, when he wants to talk or do I broach the subject? Clearly you can see I need some advice and coaching! Thanks……..

  29. I think you need to let his emotions settle before you attempt to discuss his feelings. I suggest a cool down period of a day or say. You noticed a big difference in his attitude one day later. He’ll be more receptive to discussions at that time, so you have to be patient.

    Patrick Cohn

  30. My daughter is 9. She also is a very talented competitive gymnast. So talented that the coach often seems to push her much harder than the others. Lately she seems to be crying every day at practice. She doesnt want to quit. She puts so much pressure on herself that she is bound to mess up. Then after she messes up, her confidence is gone which makes her mess up which kills her confidence which makes her mess up which kills her confidence. The cycle is endless. How can I help her from spinning completely out of control? She is also very hard on herself with her schoolwork. The very few times she made less than an A, the tears flowed hard.

  31. Wow, this hits home for our family. I just had a difficult morning explaining to my 11- year-old son that he didn’t make a rep soccer team. He practiced for 6 weeks with the team and they only cut a few boys and ours was one of them. He was really upset this morning but I don’t think it was the soccer he was disappointed in but yet another sport that his parents had to watch him “underachieve” in. And this is our fault for making him feel this way.

    We are a very competitive family, stemming mostly from the fact that my husband was a successful professional athlete for 13 years and only retired after serious knee injuries. We expect so much out of our son because he has the natural speed and build most kids would love to have. As a parent, I need to look long and hard at why I try to encourage him so much to push himself. The truth is he has never really been the kind of kid who lived for sports. He has always gone along with the early morning hockey practices, tournaments, speed skating, clinics, etc. and never once complained. He has been a champ yet in the end if he doesn’t truly love hockey or soccer…why are we pushing so hard? And because of his build and being the son of a professional athlete the expectations of him are great. Afte rall, his father was breaking hockey scoring records at his age. It has hit me today that I have allowed him to feel he is underachieving and can’t believe as a parent, I have become this way. I should have been smarter.

  32. I am very concerned about my son and his perfectionism. He has loved playing baseball and basketball since he was four and is now ten and on his second year of traveling baseball all-stars. What I have noticed is that he excels when everything is going well. When his team wins he does a great job of controlling his emotions. Let one thing go wrong though and he becomes hyper-emotional. We have to work with him before games to walk him through potential problems, helping him visualize how to properly handle things but there is no way to anticipate every problem that could arise.

    I have noticed over the years that he cannot get past things like errors or strike-outs. He becomes visibly emotional and distraut to the point the coach will bench him.

    I want to stress that we have always emphasized participation over accomplishment but the more we do that, the more he emphasizes accomplishment. When he plays video games he isn’t happy unless he can easily crush his opponent.

    Does anyone have any thoughts or experiences with this? I am afraid it is wrecking his psyche .

  33. My daughter is 8 yrs old. She has been doing gymnastics and cheerleading since she was 4. She’s had her round off backhandspring since she was 5. Since she joined an all star level 5 youth cheerleading team, she picked up amazing new skills all from a toe touch tuck to a full to a two to full. Last week she lost her roundoff backhandspring. I don’t know why…nothing bad happened. She needs to have a spot now to do it….she eventually told me she is now thinking about it too much before she does it and freezes thinking that something bad is going to happen. She looks amazing when she is tumbling…scholarship material. Now she has this mental block which happened overnight. I think she picked up too many things too fast. I think these coaches pushed her too hard.

  34. Shes thinking too much and/or does not trust in her skills because she’s worried about mistakes.

  35. We have always supported my son playing sports, but now we are agreeing with him that it is time to quit HS sports. He is not recognized by his HS coach no matter what he does on the field, yet is the leading goalscorer for the state team in his age group. It is hurting him that the coach makes false promises and lies. Either he is not recognized as being excellent or he is being shunned for other reasons. We are lucky we have a choice to put him into a real sports environment on a club team. His perfectionism is not the problem, it is the little kingdoms that HS coaches run. Players who are darlings of the coaches are allowed to freeze up, are allowed to have a bad game, when those not cannot get a break. I am not sure what lesson is worse for kids, learning that you can’t always be the best, or learning that to some, you’ll never be the best no matter what you do.

  36. My son is 6’3 and 14 years old. We live in Switzerland (my husband is Swiss- I am American). And my son made the regional team U16 for Basketball….and plays throughout Switzerland on many weekends and then they play against U19 league in our region. Only 3 other boys his age made the team playing with boys a year or two older.

    Just recently he has been selected with only a few other guys from our region to go to selection process for two to make the National team U16.
    They have been watching him for a few years and feel he has the potential to make the Swiss National team for the future.

    My whole family played sports and excelled….I was All-State Basketball player…and I just can’t control how much I push him.
    I was very competitive, aggressive, and always wanted to be the best!
    I feel that I am putting that upon my son who is not so competitive and very tranquil and low key.
    But I just can’t help that he has so much potential and doesn’t use his talent.
    I’m always telling him he can do more…that he’s tall, good, etc

    I have realized my problem a long time ago…and know I am hurting my son and making it worse, even though I talk to him with love and encouragement AFTER my criticisms.

    He started off as high scorer on the team 2 out of 4 games in their first tournament as a team…now he hasn’t scored like that since. The coach said…”We knew he was good…but he is our surprise player this year.”

    Every time he hears positive comments about himself….or we tell him coaches are talking about him….he seems to under perform? I don’t understand….I have tried several approaches …I try not to be critical…I try to motivate him, etc.

    He said he can just see it in my eyes when he doesn’t score a lot…..I try so hard not to let it bother me…but it does to the point that I can’t sleep.

    I know his potential, his talent, his chance to play on the National team for U16….but I just don’t know how to encourage him and motivate him without sounding critical.
    He said he doesn’t want us to come to some of his games…but when we don’t go….he doesn’t score more anyway.

    I am desperate as we have two problems: I’m too pushy for him to score more…he is tallest on the team…and second, to give him confidence that HE is good…and know that mom loves him no matter what…I just want him to realize the gift and talent he was born with!!

    Please help!! I need to change and he needs to be the player he was born to be….but has been hindered by his over achieving, competitive mom who puts to much pressure on him!!

    Thank you

  37. You want to be careful of the expectations you are putting on him. You might think you are trying to boost his confidence, but he turns it into expectations about scoring and this might be causing him to feel too much pressure.

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