How Young Athletes Become Frustrated – A Model for Parents and Coaches

Young Athletes And Frustration

Dr. Patrick Cohn, author of The Confident Sports Kid Series discusses how to help athletes who become frustrated during competition.

In this youth sports psychology video by Dr. Patrick Cohn you’ll learn:

How to help young athletes cope better with high expectations so they can reap the many benefits of improved composure during competition.

Watch Dr. Cohn’s video youth sports series based on The Composed Sports Kid CD and Workbook program.

Dr. Cohn explains how to help athletes who become frustrated during competition and one mental game strategy that can help kids have more fun.

Keep kids in sports longer by helping them manage their emotions.

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Watch The 3 Video Series Now!

Video 1 – How Young Athletes Become Frustrated

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Video 2 – Help Young Athletes Cope With Frustration

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Video 3 – How To Help Athletes Cope With Frustration

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Help Young Athletes Boost Confidence in Sports!

The Ultimate Sports Parent

Every day, we receive letters from parents like you who want their children and teens to excel in sports. However, these parents can see fear, doubt, and frustration on the faces of their kids who struggle with the “inner” game of sports. But these parents have no idea how to help their kids overcome the worries, expectations and self-defeating thoughts that prevent their young athletes from feeling confident and successful.

You can benefit from our 15-plus years’ of work in sports psychology and sports parenting research. Now, you can tap into our secrets to sports success through a cutting-edge, 14-day program that helps young athletes overcome the top “mental game” challenges that sports parents face—and the top challenges young athletes face.

41 thoughts on “How Young Athletes Become Frustrated – A Model for Parents and Coaches”

  1. Hello,

    I love your work. I coach my son in ice hockey which is sometimes great and sometime very bad. He suffers at times from anxiety/panic attacks.

    The new fear is internal bleeding from getting hit from the puck or a check so his game is now suffering. I have told him he will be OK but don’t know how else to help him through this.

    Can you point me in the right direction?


  2. Thanks for the video. It makes me want to look more closely at my soccer players and look at what disposition they have as well as look at what triggers and emotions are affecting their performance. Thanks

    Coach Josh U-12 competitive soccer coach

  3. He has the fear of getting injured and some of this is valid if you play hockey. However, he needs to learn how to focus on execution of each play instead of worrying about getting hurt. So you want to encourage him to think about executing plays instead of negative results.

    Patrick Cohn

  4. I am the golaie coach mentor for all goalies in the rep hockey association in Burlington , Ontario – I also am part of the coaching staff for PeeWee AAA (age 11 – 12)hockey team. This group of children have been part of a losing team (defined only by wins and loses) since they started to play hockey at the age 5. We frequently see kids try there hardest but after a mistake or close game we see – usually the same boys cry – cry in frustration. I am going to use your headings in the video and try to help shed some light into the situation. Thanks Rod

  5. Dear Dr. Cohn:

    Very good subject and video. The relationship between the Trigger and the Emotion that I have seen in athletes over the years is, primarily, the inner feelings concerning the athlete’s personal attitude as to what expectations he. or she knows the parent will have concerning their performance. If the parent has been supportive and positive towards the athlete, the athlete will respnd in very positive and confident manner towards their play – good or bad. However, if the parent has been demanding with high excpectations with behavior that is rough, loud and demanding, the athlete’s behavior can manifest itself in so many negative ways as you have so clearly listed. And it does!

    The reasons behind any parent’s behavior, I feel, is the parent’s personality: Type A, or Type B. In either case it is difficult for them to change and, consequently, the athlete is damaged , or helped. Type A’s are over controlling, demanding and hurtful. Type B’s are supportive and positive who want to see their young athletes enjoy the game.

    Sincerely, Janet and Smiley

  6. Great video. My 14 yr old son fit all your dispositions. He seem to push himself to the point of injury in basketball and now wakeboarding without realizing what he is doing. I feel like parenting him is like holding on to a team of wild horses. I would love to know more about what my husband and I can do to help keep him in check but let him go enough to have fun.

  7. Dear Dr. Cohn,

    Thank you for being another voice for our twelve year-old daughter to hear. We have had a soccer season of turmoil and much distress. To make a long story short, we have a gifted student and athlete who has major fear of failure, a perfectionist, addicted to praise and is unable to be comfortable with mistakes.

    As a soccer goalie, she shuts down after the first goal whizzes by. Her father and I want her to enjoy the sport and realize that she sets up very high expectations for herself. When asked what she thinks after a goal goes by, she says she just goes over in her mind how she missed it. One memorable instance was when she missed a goal, fell face down on the ground and cried until the referee came up to her to see if she was ok. She is the “crying kid” that we sometimes see on teams. After these disastrous games, she is mopey around the house and says she isn’t very good at soccer. I’ve tried, not just with soccer but school as well, to praise the effort rather than the result because I know she wants to hear things like “You are the best player out there.”

    I look forward to hearing more about the connection between the triggers and emotions. Thanks for your informative video and podcasts.

  8. Hello Doc,
    could you explain what do you exactly mean by …”needs to learn how to focus on execution of each play instead of worrying about getting hurt”? What do you mean by “thinking about execution of each play”?
    Thank you very much!

  9. Hello Dr. Cohn,

    Thank you for these informative videos and emails I receive regarding helping to understand our young athletes. My 15 year old son just started high school and seems to have lost confidence in himself in two sports that he used to love: basketball and baseball. He developed slower than his friends in middle school and felt he couldn’t compete as well, but now has caught up with most of them in height and now feels he is not as good and is considering not trying out for the school teams. I don’t want him to regret his decisions not to play since he loves being a part of a team, and also wonder if I could do anything to help him get his confidence back. He is a gifted student and a perfectionist as well. Thank you for your feedback!

  10. My 11yr old son is very much a perfectionist when it comes to sports and will not let himself make a mistake without getting upset. If he hits a bad shot in golf, he will cry. If he strikes out in baseball, he will cry. He can not control his emotions when things do not go well or the way he expects them to go.

    He is very much in-line with your analysis, but I have yet to find a solution.

  11. My son is 9 and is a perfectionist, a student and loves hockey. He is playing for the coach he wanted, but now has shut down. He is amazing in practice, but when game time comes around he does not really try.His coach has said to him, you are the fastest skater on our team.What’s wrong? My son says, his team sucks and he is not trying and doesn’t seem to care. The coach has threatened him to start skating or he will be moved to another position, but he does not seem to care that much. I am really worried about him and his behavior. I cannot find a solution.

  12. My 10 year old daughter is a figure skater who has had a hard time controlling her emotions ever since she started skating at 4 years old. When she is learning something new, she gets frustrated because she can’t do it well at first and starts crying. Oddly, however, the crying is usually a sign that she really wants to learn it, and is often a prelude to motivated practice where she masters the skill. (Indeed, when she doesn’t get upset about something, she often won’t practice it as much or learn it as well). In any case, by the time performances or competitions come around, when it really counts, she is inevitably in control and almost always skates her best.

    So, in effect, the crying has just become part of her learning process. But it is a part, of course, that drives everyone crazy along the way, including herself. The crying clearly frustrates her coaches, but they put up with it because they see that she just keeps going and ends up mastering the skill and ultimately does well. But now, as she is getting older, it frustrates her too and she is clearly self-conscious about it. She says “I don’t want to do this” and she’ll often hide in the bathroom after a session where she has become overly emotional.

    So now she puts double pressure on herself: the pressure about the skating, but also the pressure about controlling her emotions.

    As her father, I don’t know what to do. I tell her she puts too pressure on herself and that she needs to learn that it is okay to make mistakes, especially when she is learning new things, and that is all part of the process. I’ve also showed her some videos on this site. She says “all this psychology stuff doesn’t work.” I’m also never sure if by trying to help her with it, that it just doesn’t put more pressure on her — and she already puts so much pressure on herself anyway. On the other hand, I do find the crying embarrassing, so does she, and her coaches and other skaters get put off from it too initially, although, aside from this issue, they all seem to like working with her and respect her a lot. Any ideas?

  13. Her reluctance to work on the mental side of it may have more to do with it coming from a parent instead of another expert. I know some kids feel more pressure to do the mental game work even when they need it.

    They have to reach a point of acceptance and a “teachable moment” to really want to get help. You have to keep trying.

    I will be working on a program just for this issue. So stay tuned.

  14. My son is 9. He started playing competitive baseball when he was 6. He has always been the kid that gets mad when he makes a mistake. Not only on the playing field, but in the classroom, as well. He gets better each year at controlling himself but it is still an issue. He doesn’t get mad at his team, his coach or his teacher, only himself. He plays other sports, as well, and has the gets mad the same way. We have tried everything to help him get himself under control. Positive enforcement, sitting out of the game,punishment, ignoring it, running, bribery, threats but nothing has worked. I wonder if he is not able to control himself, if he should even continue to play sports. He loves the game and wants to go to practice, even when there is not a scheduled practice. Off the playing field, he is shy unless he really knows you. On the playing field, he is aggressive, and sometimes overly aggressive.

    He and I sat down and watched your video and we have also talked about him starting a refocusing thing – he came up with tapping his leg. We shall see how that works.

    I would really like to know how to help him and I am at a loss.

  15. Ann:

    Thanks for the comment. I’ll be posting more videos on the topic soon. I do not think punishment for his behavior works well because you are not addressing the real issues.

    Patrick Cohn

  16. My 10 yr old daughter is a great volleyball player but has somehow “lost” her serve. Midway through last season she developed “odd” mechanics and the ball goes all over the place. It’s now become a vicious cycle – the more she tries, the worse she does, the more upset she gets. The more her coach and I try to reassure her or instruct her, the more upset she gets and she just shuts down, crying and sulking. It’s breaking my heart that this is ruining this sport for her, which she has always loved and is otherwise very good at. What can we do to help her get her serve back? Thanks for any help you can offer!

  17. Hi Doc,
    Hits the nail on the head. My 14 year old son is playing basket ball at the highest level for his age. He is very talented, but doesn’t see himself in this way. He has high expectations, and if he misses shots or if he is substituted by the coach, he immediately looks at it as failure. If he plays well and scores a lot of points, it is not something that he is really pleased with. In his mind it should be the norm, and therefore just what should be expected of him. So he beats himself up and loses confidence in himself and gets the ‘wanting to quit’ type of attitude.
    In many ways he is a perfectionist when it comes to his sport.
    Thanks for all your work and sharing with us.
    /Anders, Coepnhagen, Denmark

  18. I am a PGA Member and have been teaching golf for 20 years. I also coach Mite Hockey and my son is on the team. We have a great staff but i am running into some walls with my son, 6. He is highly competetive, loves scoring all the goals, but does not respond to direction on the bench from his dad. He cries when he does not get his way at home and it is transfering to the rink. I have tried nice talking, explanations, punishment, removal from the ice and threats to miss games and practices. He loves the game and can’t stand missing anything. Oh, and he is an only child. He gets maximum attention everywhere we go and he is highly social. I work with kids every day developing their skills as athletes and players. I try not to get to involved with my son, treating him as just another player, ect. Any thoughts on what i can do to help curve his behavior?

  19. Hi Jordan:

    Can you tell me if any of your methods have worked at all? I think we focus too much on the negative behavior instead of what the real issues are. What’s going on inside his head is more important to helping him control his anger. I suggest you allow an assistant coach or captain give him instructions instead of you as father–you can pass on the instructions. I have the same issue with my child in tennis. She will not allow me to coach her–so I rely to her coaches what she needs based on my observations.

    Patrick Cohn

  20. Dr. Cohn,

    I have a 10 year old son who has been playing competetive baseball for 3 years. Your model describes him to a tee. He has been highly competetive in everything he does since he was a toddler. He is very good at sports and picks them up quickly, but he is never good enough in his eyes. He can’t handle any sort of failure. His crying when he doesn’t perform to his unrealistic standards drive the coaches and us parents crazy. We have tried everything. You seem to have hit the nail on the head in describing his emotions, I hope you are as great at coming up with solutions because we are out of ideas.

  21. Hi Laura:

    I am working on solutions to this issue as you are not alone. Many parents and coaches struggle with this. Can you tell me what you have tried so far that has not worked for you?

    Patrick Cohn

  22. Great ideas! However parents play an huge role in the frustration of some athletes. Negative parents can ruin sports for kids. Very frustrating to have your parent yelling at you from the sidelines. Or talking about the coach on the way home or players or why they didn’t start or play much. Negative parents can be a huge source of frustration for kids and can have a huge impact on their performance.

  23. I have a 10yr old motocross racer that went from being a 4-division state champion last year to placing 4th as his highest division placing this year. He now says that he is scared and can ride fast in practice but not in races! Frustration – both him and us. Any suggestions?

  24. This vido could show all the psychological processes in human brain…I agree with this division…and also Iwhat do i want to include is the importance of our perception..We see what we expect to see…and one thing can be percieved by people absolutely different..and in this case the task for our parents is to direct the kid .if thet want their child to be successful))

  25. Dr. Cohn,
    Your video is very insightful. My question after watching it is…”So, now what?”.
    I have an 11 year old son who is consistently complimented by parents and coaches (and people we don’t even know) about how “athletic” he is. Football is his first love and comes rather easily to him (he has played all of the skill positions, primarily QB/DB/Safety). He is comfortable being a “leader” on the football field. He’s also very popular w/his peers, so he’s not completely lacking in self confidence. So now comes basketball. After a couple of years playing in Optimist leagues and the school Catholic league I decided to let him try out for a travel team in order to maybe “up his game” and get ready for middle school sports by playing with kids of equal to greater ability. He made the “B” team but not the “A” team. And he has realized that he’s NOT the best player on the team. This is not a bad thing, as he needs to learn that sometimes you actually have to work hard to succeed. He is probably the best defender on the team because of his quickness and I remind him of this all the time. But now he’s so focused on making mistakes that it’s really affecting his game. He’s not the greatest ball handler so he avoids getting the ball sometimes (in one game he had ONE turnover and had a meltdown at halftime). He wants to score, but you can’t do that without the ball. I tell him all the time that not everyone can be a scorer and that there are 5 players out there and they all have a job to do and if the one kid who scores a lot were to play 1 on 5 he would lose. The other problem is his dad. He gets very nervous when his dad (my ex-husband) comes to his games. I told his dad this hoping he would look at it from our son’s perspective but he is very stubborn. Before one game I was working with him on his shot and we were laughing and having a good time, he was relaxed and he made six 3-pointers in a row. As soon as his dad arrived and “took over” I could see a complete change in his body language. He was totally stiff and all his shots were short and he didn’t want to be there. He loves his dad and would never want to hurt his feelings by telling him to “get lost”. I feel completely helpless. I played a lot of basketball and I tell him I know how he feels. But how do I help him focus on the positive??

  26. For me, you have to help him set positive, small goals to shoot for and never set goals to avoid making mistakes or missing shots, for example.

    Patrick Cohn

  27. Thank you so much for this video. I have a 7 year old son who is very talented athletically but every time he does not perform well, he gets angry and cries. He reacts this way in hockey, baseball and football. We are going on 2 years with this behavior and we are at a loss on how to help him This is VERY frustrating for my husband and I and we are trying to tell him that he needs to have fun but it’s not working.

  28. Dr Cohn,
    I have a 13 year old daughter who also crys alot and is also a figure skater. I understood Mike (november 16) and just asume this is what ice skaters do alot. My daughters coach gives a lot of negative feed back to her with attitude sometimes aswell. I have spoke with the coach, but where we are there is only this club, and thats it. I know she is stuck on one paticular jump and cant seem to feel she can achieve this jump. She had a guy come and teach for 12 days and she improved so much. But then he left and we are back where we started. I feel for her but I am at a loose end. I am always supportive she started later than most kids but has reached a high level quickly and without many private lessons. I want her to do well as she deserves it as she works hard. But how can I give her confidence to move on when the coach can be so negative at times.

  29. Dr.Cohn,

    I’m glad I found your web site. I have the 12 yr old golf wiz. Passionate and very gifted. Has competed nationally from the age of 8. I have attributed the emotional outburst to age and inexperiance with dealing with these types of emotions. He does need tools to figure out that golf is not a game of perfect and how to move on. I look forward to learning more and helping him unleash the inner genius!

  30. My son is the poster child for this. Tries some of your books/cd, more a perfectionist. Has issues with perfectionism and then shows the anger/frustration and quitting in basketball. Shows more anger and self criticism in baseball

  31. Hello Dr. Cohn,

    Often what I have seen in frustration with athletes is that much of their expectations and goals are set on past achievements and/or seen achievements by other athletes. I often see them compare their success to that of other athletes. Hence when attempting to change their perception by using the “no one is perfect” argument, they will often refer back to “[so and so] was able to make it” or “I was able to score this many points last year”.

    After the comparison has been made, many coaches i’ve observed will say out of reflex “yes but you are not [so and so]” which I often feel makes a turn for the worst in reducing their self-confidence and motivation. They view the statement as – I am inferior or not as good as others, or the coach does not think I have what it takes.

    Athletes who sometimes show anger are in my opinion the most determined and motivated. Is there a way to channel the anger into positive outcomes in training after a trigger?

  32. Anger is most often not helpful to athletes. In rare cases, some athletes can use it to help them focus better and feel more motivated to perform better. The best option is to help kids modify their expectations and how they think about mistakes.

    Patrick Cohn

  33. I found this site while I was researching issues I’m having with my 10 year old daughter. She plays fastpith softball on a 10u travel team. She has the potential to be the best on the team but she’s not because of her attitude. If she messes up she automatically gets mad. This causes her to shut down and that leads to more errors. This behavior has her on the bench often. How can I handle this?

  34. This definitely describes our 10yo son. He golfs, football, just started basketball, & plays competitive baseball. Not all at once and all by his choice. He is very hard on himself & has unrealistic expectations. We have had him in counseling. He seems to do well & we stop going, then he’ll have a meltdown. He’ll slow down if he thinks he’s going to get thrown out, cries, acts out, throws things in the dugout. It has caused drama amongst the parents. He has perfectionism with some school subjects, but will shut down (w/o acting out). I’m trying to help him before this gets worse, but I don’t feel like I’m doing anything right.

  35. Hello, Dr Cohn
    The information on dealing with frustration has been so helpful! I have a 6 year old son who has just started training in triathlon and loves it, but has the hardest time dealing with loosing, he screams and cries so loudly when that happens, I have seen this behavior since he was 2 trying to pile up cubes and watching them fall made him so angry, he started crying and throwing things. I’m also having a hard time finding out what are the beliefs behind his frustration I think sometimes he doesn’t know how to put it into words and when I try talking about it, he then changes the subject and doesn’t want to talk about it. what is your advice in how to help him traduce his feelings. I think the problem with this feelings that come almost like a reflex is that sometimes you don’t even know where that comes from?

  36. My 10 yo son plays ice hockey. He has been playing since he was 5. The first couple of seasons on a team, he was very successful- scoring goals and winning championships. He has the talent to be a very successful player. However, his attitude gets in the way of him being the all around player. He gets angry when other players get the puck from him. At times, he will retaliate against them using his stick which usually results in him taking a penalty. My husband and I stress that that is their job–to defend and get the puck. His frustration gets the best of him though. I have taken his new stick ( his prized possession) off of him and made him use one of his old sticks. I am trying to stress that the stick is not to be used as a weapon. We have also told him that he needs to skate harder and faster so that the other team can not get to the puck. In addition to this, he also runs his mouth at his own team mates. When they mess up a pass or don’t pass it to him he feels the need to say something to them. Again, my husband and I have stressed that it is not his job to ‘coach’ –he should let the coaches discuss different situations with other players. I constantly try to impress on him that all he can do is his job when he is out there–he should worry about what he is doing on the ice.

    Please help–my next step might be to take the game away altogether!!!

  37. I’ve found than punishing kids for being frustrated or acting out, does not solve the real issue — his expectations and inability to react with composure. Have you seen the Composed Sports Kids CD program?

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