When Young Athletes Drop Out of Sport Due to Bullying

Youth Sports Psychology

Feeling Unsafe in Youth Sports

Steve, a sports dad and coach, recently called us to tell us about the worst thing that can happen to a talented young athlete, from a mental-game perspective.

A 14-year-old hockey goalie was offered a position on a high-level team in a different state, and actually moved to that state to take the position….

He lived with the family of another player on the team, and the other player bullied him for being Jewish. He moved in with another family, but continued to be treated badly by his teammates. He went home and quit hockey altogether.

“Sports should be a sanctuary, a place where everyone should feel safe,” says Steve. “The fact that he didn’t feel safe with his team mates ruined the sport for him.”

We agree with Steve. If kids don’t feel safe, it’s hard for them in many ways—socially and emotionally, of course.

From a mental game perspective, feeling unsafe also makes it very difficult for young athletes to perform freely. They become fearful. This can affect their mental game so much they don’t have their game any more. In this case, the boy’s confidence plummeted.

If your young athletes are ever on a team where they don’t feel safe, you have two choices….

(1) You can either try to change the team’s dynamics by talking with the coach—or (2) you can find another team.

You need to take action before your young athlete’s confidence plummets so far he or she quits sports. Too often, sports parents don’t take action in these types of situations.

“The coach missed an opportunity to teach these kids an extremely valuable lesson,” Steve says. “You shouldn’t let the victim quit the team. You should take the bullies off the team and have a conference with the whole team to show this can’t be tolerated.”

When young athletes decide to stick it out in the face of these kinds of social challenges–which can come from coaches, other athletes or parents–they need to take advantage of mental game strategies.

First of all, as hard as it might sound, they have to find ways to change their focus so they don’t worry so much about what others think of them.

To do this, they need to take a look at their self-concept. Ask them to make a list of all their great traits. They may be sensitive, intelligent, compassionate or great team players. Ask them to remind themselves that no matter others say or do, they are still that sensitive, intelligent, compassionate team player.

Young athletes who face such social challenges and decide to stick it out should also work on their focus. You don’t want them to be distracted by people who taunt them or insult them.

They must learn to focus only on what’s relevant to their performance. For example, during a tennis serve, players must focus on a number of smaller tasks–getting their feet in position, feeling relaxed, focusing on the ball toss, trusting their abilities and thinking about the target.

Kids need to learn how to become immersed in the process and all the smaller steps involved in the serve. When kids can learn to focus on these smaller tasks, and refocus when needed, they won’t focus on others’ behavior.

Want to learn more about how to improve your sports parenting skills, help your kids cope with confidence challenges, and make the most of their abilities? At Kids’ Sports Psychology, we have many resources for you.

For example:

  • “Growing From Adversity: How to Stay Confident After Failure,” an e-book for sports kids.
  • “Focus to the Max!” an e-book for sports kids.
  • “Insides the Minds of Young Athletes 1: Miguel Worries about Peer Approval,” a video with tips for addressing worries about peer approval.

Plus, exclusive members of Kids’ Sports Psychology can download many more e-books, audio interviews with experts, videos, articles and much more.

*Subscribe to The Sports Psychology Podcast on iTunes
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Improve Your Mental Game From Anywhere In The World

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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2 thoughts on “When Young Athletes Drop Out of Sport Due to Bullying”

  1. My 14 year old went out for the Highschool basketball team. He is a freshman and a year younger than most of his peers. He Is also 6’3′ tall. He went to the tryouts and dominated on every front, rebounds block outs picks shooting, passing etc. He was cut yesterday and when they told him they said” you have all the tools and next year you will play all the games and have the potential to be a star. But we are going to give your position to another player with better grades.
    My son has five A’S and one bad grade in geomitry. He can retake the test in Geometry and have a passing grade even an A by tommoro. This school is known for its polotics and we are thinking about moving him to another school. None of this makes any sence to us If he has all this potential
    why not keep him on the team and have him practice until the grade is up. What do you think?
    Also we do not believe in telling a player that you have the potential to be a star, we just say work harder than everyone else and be a good teammate.

  2. Tom,
    Thanks for writing in. This sounds very frustrating.
    You could always try to talk to the coaches about having your son re-take the test. If they were sincere about his potential, they’ll likely want to hear about ways he can raise his grade. Just be careful about how you approach them. Don’t yell, accuse or blame them. Simply state the facts and ask if they’d reconsider if he raises his grades. You may also ask what else he can do to possibly make the team next year.
    You should consider the pros and cons of moving him to another school. It’s important to think of the big picture. What does he think? Could he make the team if you moved him now? Would it be worth it to be separated from his friends? Would it be hard on him academically to be moved now? And of course, you should check out the politics at the other school to see if your son would encounter similar problems.
    Please keep us posted on what you decide to do.

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