Ultimate Sport Parents Guide: How To Have a Great Athlete in any year…
I’m Dr. Rob Bell.
I’m going to be your coach for this Sport Parents guide.
Remember the movie Training Day with Denzel Washington? He says an awesome line, “This is CHESS, this isn’t CHECKERS!”
Raising confident, resilient, competitors is the ultimate chess match. There are A LOT of moving parts!
We trust that you’ll benefit greatly from this guide! Reach out to us for more information. We’d love to hear your own experience and tips! email@example.com
We are confident that you’ll enjoy this guide on how to be a better sport parent.
A few questions for you…
1) Do you use the best available time to talk to your kid about the game or practice?
2) What is the most important mental skill for youth athletes?
3) Why do you want your child playing sports anyways?
4) Can you possibly avoid the costly mistake most sport parents make?
5) What was the last mental toughness technique you used with your own child?
Ultimate Sport Parents Guide: How To Have a Great Athlete
We answer these ( and many others) for You!
How it Works
There are a lot of moving parts to parenting.
The support staff of a great athlete is numerous. There are coaches, assistant coaches, skill-specific coaches, sports psychologists, school-teachers, and peers.
But this guide is for the most important piece of the support staff.
First, here’s why parents are the most important role!
Let’s say every single one of the following support staff mentioned conveyed the same exact message to your son or daughter. The message was one of mental toughness and all of the skills involved:
- and letting go of mistakes.
The youth athlete was pushed and challenged and supported in all of the right ways (even from their friends and acquaintances at school).
But, when they got home, the opposite happened.
Their parents weren’t focused on how to be a better sports parent, they simply compared them to others, criticized for any performance less than their best, always drilled them on the car ride home, inadvertently built up expectations and pressure, and only focused on the future.
Frankly, we’ve seen it too many times. That’s why the ultimate sports parent guide was created. The parents have the power and influence to undercut all of the improvement and progress. It is far easier for parents to crush a kid’s confidence than it is for everyone else to build it up!
This guide will help build your young athlete’s mental toughness. Mental Toughness is two-fold- 1) How we deal, cope, and handle the adversity and setbacks in sport and life. 2) How well we do under pressure.
Both of these are a matter of “when”, “not if”, they occur. Sport teaches whatever we want it to teach and if we emphasize the skill of mental toughness, then it will last way beyond when youth sports is over.
If you want to get specific and pull back the curtain about what we teach. We coach the mental game using this hierarchy of Mental Toughness and we are always working on one of these levels of mental skills.
Start With The End in Mind
We all want the best for our own kids, but isn’t it odd that we are the hardest on those who we love the most? We are hardest on them because we also have the highest of expectations for them.
None of us start out thinking, “I wonder how I can mess up my own kid.”
I couldn’t dream of anyone of us saying, “How do I place more importance on their sport than our own relationship?”
For most of us, our goal has been clear: We want our children to be happy, well adjusted and successful, and for them to lead productive roles in society and make it a better place.
When our children were born, the clock grew legs.
We turned around, and they were all grown up (almost). That meant we needed to get serious about the business of shaping our kids and preparing them for their lives and how to have a great athlete in 2023.
The only problem is that there was no healthy road-map about raising a great athlete. Most likely, we just followed what the best athlete in the area did, and listened to the club coach, without actually trying to figure out our own best path.
The expectations increased over time.
Parents, we need to be their greatest supportive coach. It is our job to be the coach or parent that we always wanted. Our own actions shape their beliefs.
We are the greatest influence on our children’s lives and in their development, stability, attitudes, likes, and dislikes. Young athletes watch everything we do and learn by modeling behaviors and beliefs about ourselves. Everything a parent does either reinforces a child’s confidence or discredits their self-esteem.
We shape their identities. Let’s do it right.
The Division I Scholarship
In order to have a successful athlete, we need to be able to answer, “What is the goal of having our kids participate in sports?”
Is the reason for playing external (such as a college scholarship)? If it is, then every decision that we make as parents will be driven by that (whether we know it or not).
There is a systemic and malignant issue—the allure of the Division I scholarship.
Speculation—it’s the mother of all evil.
Professional scouts are paid to evaluate talent and pick only the winners. It is such an inaccurate discipline that it has, out of necessity, become a combination of art and science.
Pro scouts admit that they aren’t always trying to hit “home runs”, they are interested in “singles and doubles”. However, scouts and organizations often still miss the mark on selecting the best. Just check out MLB draft picks by rounds. It’s surface judgments by experts based only on stats and performance, which are not a real predictor of success.
Likewise, trying to predict the eventual athletic outcome of our son or daughter is futile. When immersed in the journey of sports development and success, try to start with the end in mind.
But honestly, does the end mean a collegiate Division I scholarship? Because that’s not how to have a great athlete in 2020.
The goal for many today is for their son or daughter to play at the next level and obtain a college scholarship. More specifically, a Division I full scholarship. If that’s the goal, the “why” is skewed.
It’s a BIG risk to invest so much time and money and emotional capital for a bet that may not even pay off.
Check out the Infographic- 6 Effective Tips To Earn an Athletic Scholarship
Here’s the point —- SCHOLARSHIP MUST BE THE BYPRODUCT.
It’s awesome if it happens, but it can’t be the driver!
The time and emotional commitment to the next level of play may not yield a financial return. Unless you have a daughter or your son plays either basketball or football, a partial Division I scholarship is likely all that they could procure.
If a Division I scholarship is the motivation for having our athlete play, then there becomes an expectation by the athlete themselves for this to be fulfilled.
The expectations can lead to overall greater stress, pressure, and more issues such as early specialization, burnout, much less creativity, and increased chance of over-use injuries.
Once the sacrifice and pressure become greater than the rewards and the enjoyment, athletes begin to quit, switch to another endeavor, or act-out in other ways.
Parents often only see the bright shiny diamond of Division I athletics without all of the rubbing that it takes to actually shine it.
In some cases, that is the accurate way to go, but Division I athletics are exceptionally demanding. An NCAA survey revealed that a typical athlete in-season spent 39 hours a week on academics and 33 hours per week on their chosen sport.
It’s a second career in college packed with pressure and stress. Too often, we see athletes that never fully developed their mental toughness and relied on their talent in high-school, so they struggled at the next level.
Scholarship as The Byproduct
Some parents can get caught up in only the route of Division I that they don’t even look for good opportunities at other levels with great educations such as NAIA or Division II schools.
Other levels of play can provide athletic-based financial aid, often augmented with academic scholarships.
We’ve seen parents blind-sided because their son or daughter received a recruiting letter from a Division I university, thinking it was only a matter of time before a scholarship offer would follow.
Reality is not best served on a plate of expectations of a Division I scholarship.
Vicarious parents ride the wave of recruiting and often use their child’s talents as a surfboard, showing them off as their own accomplishments. Makes sense, it’s a good feeling to be able to tell friends that he/she is recruited or offered by a big-time school. Sadly, these actions by parents add to the pressure kids experience.
However, If a scholarship is a byproduct, then options can remain open.
A scholarship as the byproduct allows parents to emphasize and reinforce all of the benefits that sport can provide: confidence, motivation, build mental toughness, teamwork, communication, and leadership. It’s a huge way to be a better sports parent.
Remember: It’s Not who gets there first!
It’s about who can get there and stay there!
Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks was epic. An interesting fact about that Super Bowl was that not one starter on either team was a five-star recruit.
Remember the player as a youth who somehow had a beard? Typically the best athletes at younger ages are the biggest and the most physically developed.
We miniaturized long-term growth and development and maximized a short-term focus on winning or losing. We looked at the short-term through a microscope and the long-term through a telescope.
We no longer account for the LATE BLOOMER. Having a Great Athlete in 2021 means to respect the process and keep the long-term goal in focus.
Traveling too early is the gateway drug of early specialization. Anything before late middle school is too early.
Yes, A few travel tournaments or matches here and there is great, its fun! But even for young kids, the trips have become EVERY SINGLE weekend. Here’s the danger, it becomes expensive and once they start traveling, it’s too easy to buy the idea that they now have to pick a sport and stay with it because there has to be a payoff.
Specialization isn’t all that either because the specific movements with different sports actually transfer.Jumping, running, throwing, swinging, all transfer across sports!
We are not saying “Don’t have a primary sport.”All we are saying is allow secondary sports and play as well.
Playing a variety of sports achieves that goal of skill development and becoming an athlete. Plus, each sport offers a unique advantage, competitiveness. When they learn to compete in many different sports, they will eventually transfer that skill of competitiveness to their favorite! Allowing them to play multi-sports is how to be a better sport parent and have a great athlete.
Here is the quick video that we created to emphasize this exact point about the late-bloomer.
How To Build Their Mental Toughness
Winning, rankings, and trophies cannot be the main emphasis of sports. We can’t only focus on results.
The goal and motivation of youth sport must be development, mastery, and effort. Two-take-aways from this section that build mental toughness are:
The Process is More Important Than The Product
Tenacity Is more important than talent
What is Mental Toughness?
Mental toughness is simple; it’s just not easy.
Mental Toughness is how we handle, cope, and deal with the setbacks and adversity. Mental toughness also involves how we perform under pressure; these “have to” moments. And it’s only a matter of when, not if, these moments will occur.
Mental toughness is not all or nothing.
All or nothing is either/or thinking, black and white. All or nothing thinking means our kids are either the best or the worst. They are either first or last. They are the shark or the minnow, the Viking or the victim, the ulcer giver or the ulcer getter.
Addicts and perfectionists view life in all or nothing terms.
The difficulty with all or nothing thinking is that it is inherent in sports.
We enjoy this part of athletics because it is unambiguous—there is a winner and a loser. Life isn’t that way because there isn’t a finish line, and there is much uncertainty. However, sport ONLY wants us to focus on the results.
That’s why “did you win?” is the first question asked after any competition. We won or lost, got a hit or didn’t, the best time or not, scored or didn’t. All or nothing.
Mental toughness is getting away from all or nothing thinking and being able to focus on the process.
It’s about progress, not perfection.
Mental toughness is a continuum. It’s not either I have it or I don’t.
Mental toughness is “how much?”
How much mental toughness do I have left after making mistakes or after a bad performance? The skills that will translate into life are guts, resilience, and the willpower to fight and never give up.
Most people talk about mental toughness rather than instructing it. Coaches and programs that specifically address mental skills, character, and leadership are the ways that build mental toughness.
Mental Toughness, grit, or resiliency, is the developed skill that lasts way beyond when sport is over.
We share with players and coaches that mental toughness will not win anyone a championship, but not having mental toughness will lose it. We are preparing for that one moment, and when our opportunity hits, it’s too late to prepare.
Create The Ideal Environment
The first step to have a great athlete is to provide the right environment! Since there are so many moving parts, we need to control what we can control.
What we value most, as a family, is on what we focus.
Our role to be better sport parents is to stress effort, accountability, character, and create a supportive environment—not measure their vertical leap, bat speed, or split times.
It doesn’t matter what you think of your child’s ability level. We as parents over-estimate their ability and talent level anyways. We have to admit that we are biased!
You’re Mom and Dad—your role is to be supportive, not vicarious. Few scouts or recruiting directors will be calling you to ask how good you think your son or daughter is. Coaches will most likely observe the interactions among family members and how your son or daughter handles setbacks.
Supportive parents provide an environment that remains safe. They don’t try to solve their kids concerns.
They encourage their children to think for themselves, come up with their own solutions and handle their own outcomes. Home is not a fan base either. Athletes can rest assured that in the home, no matter how they perform, their identity is not just as an athlete. They are reminded about their unconditional love and support.
Lastly, these children aren’t nagged about their preparation or whether they are nervous before important performances.
- Supportive sport parents attend from a distance and may even miss a practice.
- Supportive parents ensure their son or daughter assumes responsibility, not blaming coaches or situations.
- Supportive parents stress effort over results.
- Supportive parents know their son or daughter’s performance is just a shadow of them, not a reflection.
- Supportive parents make sure they aren’t over the top.
- Supportive parents are aware of the long-term development.
Avoid This Costly Mistake That Most Sport Parents Make
If you are in the midst of youth sports and contributing to the 15 billion dollar business, then you may want to avoid this costly mistake that every sport parent makes.
The financial impact upon family resources is indeed a factor of having your own child participate at a high level of sports.
Not all sports are created equal.
You may already feel the costs of participating. Depending on where you live, what sport your child plays, and what summer camps they attend, you may pay upwards of $4,000 to $10,000 each year, maybe more, per sport. These don’t include travel costs incurred to attend tournaments and showcases.
To avoid this costly mistake that every sport parent makes is about the MONEY ISSUE.
Most parents ask, or unintentionally state:
- “We are paying how much for lessons, and you play this way?”
- “We’ve invested too much time to have you quit.”
- “This has to pay off.”
- “Boy, we sure have been doing this a long time.”
Research on scholarships of Division I athletes shows that the behavior of a coach is most important for motivation.
Motivation increased or decreased on how the scholarship was communicated to them. If a coach communicated the scholarship as informational (you’re good enough), then motivation increased. However, if a coach used the scholarship as controlling (you’ll do this because you’re on scholarship), motivation decreased.
With our own youth athlete, their perception of money and time is crucial. We are the coach in this situation and if it is seen as a tool of information, it may increase motivation. However, If it is viewed as controlling, then motivation will be crushed.
When the issue of finances come up and we accidentally utter one of the phrases above or talk with our kid about what something costs, it mistakenly adds undue stress.
When money or time or the amount of sacrifice that YOU have made is brought up, it adds pressure.
Pressure can burst a pipe. Youth athletes start to play NOT to lose, they play safe, and as a result, they don’t play to their capabilities! This causes more anxiety and stress and sucks the fun and their talent out the door.
Students and athletes today are in the know; they are aware of cost and sacrifices. Due to the sacrifices made by parents, they often internalize their play and struggle as they are letting others down.
They don’t want to disappoint you as a parent.
Discussing money, time, and financial independence are sometimes essential. But, there is a place to discuss money and time. Discuss all pressure and uncomfortable topics in non-pressure and comfortable environments.
Communicating and planning from both ends are best discussed before and after every season, certainly not during the season or after bad outcomes.
This is how we create an ideal environment and be a better sport parent in 2020.
We need to use the money issue as the reason why we support them, that we believe in them, and are thankful to be able to provide for them and watch them play. This is a point that needs to be communicated often especially in our everyday life and they way we approach money situations.
When Our Kids Lose
It really hurts when we lose and fail. It is no fun at all. There is major discomfort.
Losing and failing is challenging, not a tragedy.
Losing is an event, NOT a person.
The pain eventually subsides, but as parents, have we removed the setbacks, adversity, and ownership of failing?
As a result, have we accidentally cheapened the joy of success and winning? We cannot truly appreciate winning and improvement if we have never experienced the difficult loss.
When we eliminate the pain of losing, we also eliminate the lesson.
We must allow our athletes to experience the natural setbacks and struggles, so they can learn how to overcome these obstacles. They cannot improve if we remove the obstacles or blame others.
Worse yet, they don’t learn how to effectively deal and cope with losing.
When our children lose, it’s important to let them take ownership and not allow them to blame coaches, teammates, or equipment. Proper perspective is important. At the right time, ask good questions: What did they learn from it? What do they need to improve upon?
Losing isn’t fatal—it just stings a lot.
Losing is tough, so allowing them to take ownership also does not mean piling on with criticism or critique.
We are all vulnerable to a loss, so they still need encouragement, love, and support. As we can’t let a win go to our head, we can’t allow a loss to go to our heart. They need reassurance after losing that they are still great. We still need to Stress effort over results.
We cannot give away something that we don’t have. To provide proper perspective, we must have perspective ourselves. Losing does not make you a bad parent, and winning does not make you a great parent.
Remember, this experience is about them; it’s not about you.
The Precedent You Set Is What You’ll Get
Albert Jennings was one of the top youth golfers in the entire nation before his 15th birthday. He won 90% of the tournaments he entered between ages 10-15 years old.
He not only practiced and played golfer every single day and played in a tournament every three days, but he always wore pants when he golfed. As a kid, he wore pants because was going to be on the PGA Tour.
PGA Tour player and 3x All-American Patrick Rodgers, once asked him “How could [he] get to Albert’s level?”
So, what happens to the prodigy and wunderkind when they start to struggle? It’s the same thing that happens to all good athletes, it depends on the parents.
As parents, what is the precedent that we set after unsuccessful outcomes and poor results?
A precedent is a rule or principle that serves as a guide for future decisions. I never thought it was applicable outside of the law and especially to sport parents. Oh my, how I was wrong.
Parents make these mistakes of setting a poor precedent after every important game.
- Do we as parents start drilling them on the way home?
- Is our role to point out everything they did incorrectly and how they can “get better?”
- Is comparing them to others a common theme for us?
- Is the precedent we set immediately calling their coach?
- Do we hit up another practice session right away?
- Do we yell or pile on about how they aren’t “trying?”
On a long enough timeline, when do we as parents start to internally panic after enough mediocre results and feel helpless to just fix it for them?
How parents behave and communicate after an event is the precedent that is set. Parents make this mistake by setting bad examples.
When Albert Jennings started to struggle and not meet the super high expectations, the precedent took over, which was “what’s the matter with the swing?” Something is WRONG and we must FIX it! After every single unsuccessful event, it became what’s the matter?
Focusing only on the problem and trying to figure it out for them begins a vicious negative cycle.
What happens is that The athlete starts to search instead of practice. Very quickly the bottom can drop out because they get away from sound fundamentals. Their confidence which is already fragile now becomes an issue and once athletes lose confidence, it’s difficult to get it back.
Athletes that had success at early ages, yet later on struggle, face a very difficult path. They often start to question their own athletic identity of “I win.” More importance is then placed upon results and outcomes to regain their identity of “this is who I am.” Now, they feel like they are on an island by themselves and if they are unlucky enough to be told “it’s all in your head,” then they are shot into the abyss.
If we stare at the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at us!
When we set a poor precedent as parents, we are inserting ourselves into the mix of how to fix what went wrong and soon, the young athlete looks for you to solve it for them! (SEE OWNERSHIP SECTION).
We do not build capacity as parents, all it does is build dependency.
We don’t know what we don’t know, but sadly sport parents make this mistake of setting the wrong precedent and it can be one of the most detrimental actions toward development.
Think OWNERSHIP, NOT BUY-IN
Often parents and coaches think of getting athletes to buy-in instead of taking ownership.
When athletes take ownership of their development, it means that they have skin in the game and stock in the company.
UCLA basketball coach John Wooden stated that the worst punishment he could give would be to withhold practice. The worst punishment was for him to announce, “Gentleman, practice is over.” His players took ownership that playing and practicing at UCLA was a privilege and it could be taken away.
Allow your child to take ownership. Ownership builds mental toughness. Let them fail and learn from that failure.
Don’t try to save the day by not letting them experience the setbacks or the mistakes. Working through the setbacks is a part of learning and growing mentally tough.
Here’s one strategy to implement that will allow them to take OWNERSHIP.
When your son or daughter forgets a piece of equipment at home (glove, Gatorade, jersey, goggles, putter), DO NOT PICK IT UP FOR THEM.
They will assume ownership in their development and equipment, and they won’t forget it again. Interesting how they never seem to forget their hair gel though on road trips.
Parents often comment how they get worn out nagging their kids to pack their things to/from practice. Who would have thought the task of packing up would become its own sport?
Dan Gould, head of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, provides an ownership strategy for athletes. They take ownership of their equipment bag. It’s called, “I pack, we pack, you pack.”
- I pack the bag first, and you watch how it’s done and observe everything that’s needed.
- Next, we pack the bag together, taking turns, quizzing each other, and making it collaborative.
- Finally, you pack the bag, and I’ll supervise and integrate when and if needed, again, making it fun.
After the last packing, it is completely up to them from that moment on. OWNERSHIP!
It seems such a simple concept so many tasks can be completed with this method. Lastly, allow them ownership to carry their own packed bag.
Talking to the coach
A head football coach said, “I’ve eaten out at restaurants my entire life and never have I once gone back to the kitchen to tell the cook, this is how you should prepare the meal.”
In sports, however, we seem to think that because we can visibly see what takes place on the field, it makes us somewhat of an expert. Coaches devote their time, energy, and expertise to the passion. It’s their livelihood to know the nuances and personnel of preparation and execution. Frankly, it’s their job to know more than you! Even at the recreational level, they have at least devoted their time.
As parents, we must accept that our perception is skewed because of our emotional investment.
Simply put, there are going to be good and not so good coaches. And our kids learn from both. They learn the healthy way to treat others, and how to communicate, and also, unfortunately, the unhealthy ways. But, kids need to be free to form their own opinions and experience situations without our coloring their perceptions.
Criticizing coaches’ play-calling, schemes or playing time does much harm to a situation. Coaching from the stands is horrendous. A youth coach once stated that he knows when parents are talking about him behind his back. “The kids won’t look me in the eye.” Sad.
The lessons learned in sport can transfer out of sport. There are going to be good bosses and not so good bosses.
If we wouldn’t call up our child’s boss ourselves, then why would we call the coach?
If there is an issue that your son or daughter needs to communicate with coach, they should be the one communicating.
Remember to Thank the Coach
A non-negotiable in our family household is how our kids end practice!
They shake the coaches hand and say “Thank-You.”
It’s simple, yet powerful. No matter the type of practice or outcome of game, the ending is the same. It was created as a way to put a type of positive closure on a poor day, a way to end it positively.
It takes more mental toughness to lift up one’s head than it does to raise a trophy.
Coaches at all levels sacrifice their time. If you don’t coach, then you are awarded more freedom to finish your own business without having to show up early and leave late. It’s your choice, we don’t judge. But, if you do not step up to coach, you have forfeited your right to sit down and coach.
Teach your kids to end practice and games the same way and respect their sacrifice.
End everything with a handshake and a thank you.
Grow Their Confidence
This may have been the first section you turned to because it’s perceived as the most important. Confidence is always mentioned by athletes as the most important mental skill.
Confidence is the most important mental skill because it’s the most difficult.
Confidence is king because the lack of confidence is how games are lost. When the king dies in chess, the game is over. Once we lose confidence or trust in coaches, our parents or ourselves it is difficult to get it back. If confidence is lost at the elite levels of the sport, the game is over.
However, the king in chess does not win the game.
The king only moves one space at a time. Likewise, confidence is a fragile commodity. It can take weeks and months to build it up, but only one poor choice of words on our part as a parent to tear it down.
If you ask any athlete what they’re thinking about when they’re playing at their best, the answer is always the same: “Nothing.”
Athletes that achieve mind-blowing streaks in any sport when asked how they did it also say: “I don’t know.”
Elite performers all stress that when they are playing their best, the event slows down. They feel in complete control.
Have you ever finished a workout or a run, looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, “Hey, I look good.” Honestly, you look no different from when you began, except you now feel different. Depending on our perspective on spirituality, our prayers may not be automatically answered, but we feel better after praying or even meditating. We feel at peace. Confidence is a feeling.
When an athlete loses confidence that feeling now turns into thoughts.
They just begin to think too much.
They no longer trust their instincts, their gut. Instead, they get stuck inside their own head and try to think their way into right acting. The first thing that goes when an athlete begins performing poorly is the lack of feeling. Their play or technique may look fine, but if they don’t feel confident, they will begin to search.
Build Their Confidence Through GPS
How many of us have been driving in an unfamiliar place, following our GPS, and we suddenly felt that we were not quite in the right spot? So, we turned a corner or drove straight ahead disregarding the map.
Trust is our gut, our intuition, and the belief and ability to trust in our decisions. Confidence is a feeling, so help them trust it!
Confidence is the ability to re-focus, to let go of mistakes, and to listen to our gut, our inborn GPS. Our GPS points us in the direction we are supposed to go. It’s our decision whether or not to trust our gut.
Here’s what our GPS does not do, however. I’ve never had the GPS ask me, How did you get here? Why are you in this part of town? Are you going to be late? Our GPS merely redirects us if we miss a turn or take a different route.
Confidence doesn’t judge.
It never asks questions like, “How did you get in this situation?This should be over, why are you even here? Are you really good enough?”
Program their GPS
Has your child ever asked, “don’t you trust me?”
Isn’t that such a great question? Trust is a process… It’s not all or nothing, it’s more like “how much do we trust our kids?”
Do we trust them to walk to a friends house, but do we trust them to cut our hair?
Trust affects everything because the more we trust and have confidence, the better focused, relaxed, and honest we become. If we give someone a task and know that it will be done, it frees us up to focus on something else.
One of the best traits that we can share with our kids is trust. How much do we trust our own gut and our instincts?
Build your son or daughter’s GPS by allowing them the choice to listen to it or not. Allow them to make mistakes and learn from it to problem solve and find a way. It’s not easy.
However, we fail to be a GPS ourselves when we start judging their performance, overly questioning their effort or always fixing it for them (i.e., nagging them to pack their bag).
They confuse their inborn GPS when they become unable to let go of mistakes and bring up past errors. It is difficult, if not impossible, to remain confident if we can’t redirect ourselves on the destination and how to get there.
We do this through our actions, namely our body language.
In all sports, we see positive and negative body language on the field. As parents, our body language off the field speaks so loud your son or daughter doesn’t need to hear a word you’re saying. They can see you slump, get upset or throw your hands up in disgust. I repeat—they can see your negative body language.
This is not easy, but it is essential—your own body language must remain confident and supportive. That means your head is always up, you are clapping or cheering, and giving thumbs up.
When things are not going as well as we’d like, we must immediately focus on our own body language and what it is communicating.
Because Body Language Doesn’t Talk, It SCREAMS!
Sometimes, it swears…
Negative body language by athletes doesn’t show passion, It reveals a lack of belief.
Our own negative body language doesn’t show that you care or are passionate; it reveals a lack of confidence. Spoiler Alert: Things are going to go wrong, our kids will face adversity, and people will make mistakes.
If we lose our cool and show horrible reactions to events, then what are we really saying?
When our own body language is negative, we are demonstrating and showing that we don’t think the result is going to turn out like we’d hoped. We communicate that we don’t have confidence or faith in our child. They feed off of this!
Think about how real confidence looks and acts?
Chances are we mostly think of someone playing well and dominating the sport. Confidence comes naturally at these moments.
The truth is that everyone faces adversity, and goes through dry spells. This can come in the form of struggle during a game or adversity throughout a season. Can we have confidence during these times as well?
It’s how we handle the struggle and how our children interact with us during these times of stress.
Confidence is simply the belief that it will work out. Fear is the biggest barrier to confidence because we don’t believe that it is going to work out like we want it. Playing time, scholarships or failing can all put stress on the confidence level of our children.
Confident athletes and parents let nothing bother them.
They keep their head in the game when others are losing theirs. They believe in their process so much that they refuse to let setbacks affect their mindset or their team. It’s amazing to see, but the best athletes manage their poise and focus. Nothing bothers them. It is the major impact of confidence and the true test of one’s level of confidence and mental toughness.
It is common for the major changes or setbacks to bother us. However, ever notice when we get stressed that everything seems to bother us like the person next to us in traffic or our family?
When we are confident, these things don’t bother us at all but they become the first thing to annoy us when we lose our belief that things will work out.
When we criticize others outside of our family, our children hear this. When we become stressed out and we struggle to control our language or behavior, our children witness it.
During games most of the poor behavior by parents is because they feel everything must go their way—meaning no bad calls, all the playing time, no drama on the team, and certainly no mistakes.
If the goal is to have nothing bad happen during the game, then have your son or daughter play for the Globetrotters, because they’re the only team that never loses.
When we lose our cool during a game or criticize them after the game, we show our children that we don’t believe things will work out. If we did, then we wouldn’t let it bother us so much. We still may get upset, but we can refocus, not let it bother us, and certainly not reflect this behavior to our kids.
We can make this mantra, a goal to be achieved rather than just an outcome of confidence. The only way we can achieve our goal of “nothing bothers me” is if we are confident. What we agree to is the belief that “I don’t need everything to go my way to be successful.
I believe it will work out, and I am just going to “act as if.”
I am not an advocate of faking it until we make it, because then we are just faking it. I merely say act as if. Act as if they will turn it around and finish strong.
Great parents demonstrate their belief through confident body language.
Below is a video and e-book that we created titled NO FEAR: A SIMPLE GUIDE TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS. It’s received over 280k views.
If you click on it, you’ll start the video at the 2nd most difficult mental skill! It’s about how to let go of mistakes, expectations, and instead, re-focus!
Think of a reactor!
You may get a vision of a nuclear power plant!
A reactor is someone who can’t keep his or her cool under pressure.
Now, picture a responder!
You may get an image of a first responder, someone who has been trained to handle adversity.
We need to be a responder with our athletes, not a reactor. When we respond, it is devoid of emotion and we usually make good decisions. It is operating from a place of calmness and reason. When we react, however, it is full of emotion and knee-jerk behaviors. Many careers and mistakes have occurred due to a bad reaction.
How Do WE ACT During Their Performance?
During a youth hockey game, a 12-year-old crossed the blue line with the puck.
From the stands, his dad yelled, “Shoot it!” The 12-year-old froze!
That voice was stuck inside his head for the entire season. He was a great passer at that age but had not yet developed a strong slap shot. One critical shout from his dad and he now began to have doubts and think instead of just play.
We see this ALL OF THE TIME—Parents coaching from the stands.
There are good opportunities to talk about their performance—and some not good ones. During the game is NOT a good time to bring it up. However, we constantly see parents communicating with their son or daughter while they are playing.
A strange thing occurs when a parent regularly provides instructions or feedback while a young athlete plays—the athlete hears it! There can be hundreds of people in the stands and a young athlete will single out a parent’s voice. Since your voice is the one they’ve heard their whole life, they can’t block it out. It messes them up!
Have a Plan
We didn’t plan to fail; we just failed to plan.
Often we didn’t mean to yell or scream or lose it in the stands. We just allowed our emotions to take over. The game cannot turn into an occasion for that.
As sport parents, we must have a plan as to how we will conduct ourselves and how we will cheer. Of course cheer and be positive during games and especially for their teammates, but avoid feedback or coaching while your son or daughter is playing the game. There may be a time and place for that—but it’s not here and not now.
Our own in-game behavior is something that is under our control and we need to keep it that way. Sadly, how parents react during games is what receives all of the bad press!
How can we expect to have a great athlete in 2019 and beyond if we can’t control our own emotions during the contests?
We need to model how to respond to adversity!
Coaching is all about timing.
We have all been there: Our son or daughter not only played poorly, but played with little energy, couldn’t let go of mistakes, and they may even have looked like they didn’t want to be there.
Since we value effort and it wasn’t there, we took mental notes on what we were going to say and how to best get our point across. We wanted to make sure that history does not repeat itself.
Parenting is all about timing.
If we want to Respond and NOT react, then we need to examine the timing of our “talks.”
There are good times to talk with your son or daughter about the game, and then there are bad times. On the ride home from the game and practice is a bad time.
Worth repeating: The worst time to discuss” performance is on the ride home.
We may want to talk so bad that it is like acid in our mouth—they need to know what we think. We have great points, and they need to know how they can improve. All true, but we just cannot share them on the ride home.
Even if we commend and not criticize, we may get in the habit of making the car ride the time and place to discuss.
They are trapped in the confines and have to listen.
When athletes play poorly, the last thing they want to hear is someone trying to make them feel better. In fact, it doesn’t help build their mental toughness because they need to feel the pain of not getting what they want.
Injured, Now What?
Hall of fame athletic trainer Jenny Moshak worked alongside Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee for over 17 years.
She treated injuries from nagging to the career-ending type. She once told me, “An athlete who is injured goes through some depression.”
Injured athletes will go through feeling down, getting the blues, and can experience the negative thoughts and emotions that accompany depression.
They won’t always react rational and little issues will become bigger than life.
Here are two infographics that we’ve received tons of thank-you’s from injured athletes and sport parents themselves!
Athletes deal with life through their sport and how they play.
If they are playing well, a part of the team, and enjoying it, then all of life’s problems fall into line.
However, once an athlete becomes injured, every little problem becomes larger than life. Their coping mechanism has been removed and so they struggle and cannot deal. They may behave completely different, because their identity as an athlete is shaken.
Injuries are a catalyst for larger issues.
Often, athletes return to play too soon after an injury. They want to return and often will do whatever it takes. In the athlete’s mind, they’re feeling close to how they felt before the injury; however, after returning too fast, they soon discover they are off. They may feel fine for nine out of ten plays, but that one play where they can’t cut, accelerate or move like before causes doubt.
Physically, it causes them to muscle guard and protect the injured area.
Doubt, which has never been there before, is suddenly present. Doubt causes slight hesitations, overthinking or even trying to do too much. As a result of the doubt and less than stellar play, they lose confidence.
It occurs at all levels and especially to the better players. Once an athlete loses confidence, it is extremely difficult to get it back.
The role of the caregiver is two-fold for injured athletes.
First, ensure the athlete remains part of the team; stay included in travel, team functions, and especially practice. Second, stay in contact with the athlete and stay supportive, but relieve the pressure to return. Too often, injured athletes isolate themselves and start to internalize their struggle and don’t reach out.
So What? Now What?
In basketball, a popular move is the head fake, which gets the defender going one way while the dribbler goes the other way.
So, here’s the head fake.
Be the change you want to see.
Hopefully, we think about how we can help our son or daughter with their mental toughness. But we need to start with ourselves.
Our kids are not a reflection of our parenting, just a shadow.
We can’t parent our kids to be more relaxed or mentally tough if we don’t possess that quality.
Our daughter won’t listen to mom about her body image if mom doesn’t value her own body. If we are not patient or react badly when we lose our keys, then our kids will mirror this behavior. If we lose trust in others around us and blame and criticize, then our kids will serve as our shadow.
Being a supportive parent is difficult.
Mental toughness is needed.
It certainly hasn’t gotten easier in today’s culture, because there are so many more distractions. We are going to mess up and make mistakes as sport parents.
Remember, it’s not about the setback; it’s about the comeback.
What’s important is that we do the next right thing.
When we do a poor job, own up to it. The key is to know that we can make adjustments and to show these adjustments.
We can autocorrect when we notice that we’ve started talking about being nervous, discussing the game on the ride home, or putting more emphasis on winning rather than effort.
About Your Author
Dr. Rob Bell is a Mental Toughness coach who specializes in helping athletes, coaches, parents, and teams perform their best when it matters the most!
He has worked with winners on the PGA Tour, University of Notre Dame, Olympic Medalist, and USTA national champion. He has caddied over 20 events on tour, and has written 6 books on Mental Toughness.
He has delivered keynote speaking events to the NFL, NSCA, Marriott, and Walgreens.
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Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens.
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