Can Sports Improve Young Athletes’ Self-Esteem?

Youth Sports Confidence

Do Sports Help Self-Esteem?

A sports parent writes:

“My 12-year-old has always had low-self confidence and low self-esteem. My hope was that a competitive sport (baseball for us) could help him develop these but so far results (four years into the mission) are negative to neutral at best. How do you evaluate if competitive sports are just not going to work, neutral, or all systems go for helping kids develop confidence and self-esteem?”

Often, sports parents and kids confuse self-confidence and self-esteem in youth sports. There’s a difference between the two…

Confidence is all about how much kids believe in their ability to execute a task or skill—it’s about kids’ performance in sports.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, is more about the whole person. It’s based on kids’ self-concept—how they view themselves as people, not as athletes.

Kids’ self-esteem is about how they define themselves (outside of sport) and relate to other people.

It’s possible that confidence and self-esteem can be independent of one another. In other words, kids can be confident in sports, but possess low self-esteem.

Here’s the problem with self-esteem in youth sports.

If kids’ self-esteem is based on their success or failure in youth sports, they can feel more pressure when competing.

When athletes’ self-esteem is based only on sports achievement, they feel upset when they don’t succeed and it hurts their self-esteem.

There are other problems that go along with linking self-esteem with achievement in sports. For example, when kids who feel this way are injured and can’t play for months, their self-esteem suffers—and it shouldn’t!

It’s not a good idea for kids to link their self-esteem with their achievement in sports.

It’s possible that young athletes who do this are seeking approval from others via youth sports.

Parents should help athletes understand that sports is something they do, not who they are!

Back to the parent’s question…

This parent wanted to know if sports will develop a kid’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

Yes, participating in youth sports may boost self-confidence in sports. But you don’t want your kids to participate in sports in the hopes that excelling in athletics will improve their self-esteem.

Self-esteems has to come from your athletes’ understanding of their self-concept (who they are) and a positive appraisal of their self-concept.

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We’re certain that, as a parent, you want to help your child develop confidence and discipline in sports and life. And as a sports parent, you’d love for your children to reach their potential in sports. But encouraging your child to strive for greatness without pressuring them can be a challenge.

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