By Lisa Cohn and Dr. Patrick Cohn
Just how can practices improve young athletes’ confidence? And what does this mean for you as a sports parent?
Longtime coach Marty Schupak, founder of Youth Sports Club, has lots to say about how efficient, engaging practices can boost kids’ confidence in sports.
Schupak’s journey into coaching began when his son, a baseball player, was asked by his coach to endure 2.5 hours’ of boring batting practices. Schupak decided to try his hand at coaching-and invented a number of creative ways to keep kids engaged, successful, and feeling good about themselves.
For example, he noticed that baseball players who are 6 years old are far ahead of the 5-year-olds who have a year’s experience under their belts. “It’s hard for 5-year-olds to feel successful,” he says.
Schupak came up with an idea: How about the 5-year-olds begin with batting a kickball off a batting tee? “This way, the kids experience more success and gain confidence. After hitting a kickball, the kids can move to a softball,” he says.
He also started designing practices that mixed skills-building drills with “fun” drills. During a “fun” drill, 11- or 12-year-olds might hit a kickball off a batting tee, then run the bases.
If kids are having fun and experiencing success, they’re more likely to feel confident, gain satisfaction, and improve their performance.
Another example: If coaches can ensure the less experienced or struggling players interact in positive ways with the stronger players during practice (and games), they’ll likely feel more confident.
Following are additional ways parents and coaches can help build kids’ confidence during practice time:
- Parents shouldn’t over-coach their kids by filling their minds with technical details. This behavior might conflict with the coach and distract young athletes.
- When kids feel supported by parents and coaches, they’re more relaxed and more likely to play intuitively, and learn and grow. If they’re tense, they play mechanically and tentatively and are less likely to grow as athletes.
- Kids need to learn how to take their “practice” game to the competitive realm. Sometimes kids are stars in practice, but freeze up during competition because the real game starts to take on more meaning to athletes.
- Be sure to evaluate a coach before placing your child on a team. Find a coach who runs a fun and engaging practice. You should avoid a coach who bores kids and sinks their confidence during practice time. Practices can make or break a kid’s interest in sports! A simple test is to examine the faces of the athletes to see if they are having fun.
Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting https://www.youthsportspsychology.com/