Chris, the sports mom of an 8-year-old young athlete, faces a difficult dilemma: Her son is a talented goalie in hockey, but he’s so good that his teammates and coaches rely on him too much.
Chris’s problem: The boy feels so pressured to perform in youth sports that he recently pretended to be sick to avoid playing goalie in an end-of-season tournament.
Initially, the boy said that he enjoyed the fact that everyone liked him so much for being such a great hockey goalie. However, it’s clear that he soon began worrying that peers and coaches wouldn’t like him if he didn’t perform up to expectations.
When sports parents have talented or successful young athletes who struggle with high expectations, they need to get to the root of what’s upsetting or worrying their sports kids They need to apply a little youth sports psychology. First of all, they should help sports kids identify their own high expectations.
The athlete might say, “If I let my team down, nobody will like me.” Or the child might say, “If I make a mistake, I screw up the game for everyone.” Let your young athletes express their feelings. Be sure to openly discuss their fears or anxieties.
In many, cases kids in this position likely are afraid of failing or afraid of losing their peers’ or coaches’ approval. They may also be perfectionists who think they shouldn’t make mistakes. These are common mental game challenges in youth sports.
Here’s another common mental game challenge for young athletes: Often, their expectations are unrealistic. The kids may feel as if they must win the game for everyone. Or they may feel as if they are not allowed to make any mistakes. These unrealistic expectations can undermine an athlete’s confidence in sports.
Discuss these expectations with your sports kids and help them understand that they shouldn’t expect so much of themselves. You might remind them that no one is perfect. Tell them that people will like even if they make mistakes.
Some sports kids are more open about discussing their feelings than others. With kids who are less likely to open up, be on the lookout for the moments during the day when they’re more likely to share their feelings. Sometimes this is when you pick them up from school; sometimes it’s just before they go to bed. Be sure to listen and acknowledge their feelings. Remember, as a sports parent, it’s your job to listen, to be supportive and to focus on ensuring your child is having fun in sports.
Lisa Cohn and Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free ebook, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting www.youthsportspsychology.com