Its universal, young athletes seek approval from their parents, and parents, for the most part, have their children’s best interests in mind.
However, against the current climate where early specialization is the norm and Direct School Admission (DSA) often the main motivation, it’s easy for parents, coaches and young athletes to get overwhelmed by the competitiveness of youth sport.
Over the years as a PE teacher and later as a Sport & Psychology coach, I’ve observed how expectations placed on athletes by their parents have not only undermined their enjoyment but their confidence as well. As a result, many aspiring athletes suffer from performance anxiety, burnout and give up on sport altogether.
Make no mistake, parents have the best intentions but they may not know how best to help their children strive for success without undue pressure. I’ll attempt to share how we can address this challenge over 3 posts. The information will be organized into 12 related tips that are built on each other.
Here are the first 3!
Tip 1: Remember Why…
“Why do children take part in Sport?” vs. “Why do parents want their children to take part in Sport?”
I was at the National Youth Sport Institute (NYSI) conference for Sport Parents last month. One of the speakers Andrew Pichardo reminded parents to remember why kids take part in Sport. Children take part in sport to have fun and to make friends.
Tensions will inevitably arise when parents overemphasize on winning and worse, start influencing their children to perceive their peers more as competitors rather than friends.
Tip 2: Success without happiness is NOT Success
It is challenging to have a healthy outlook on success against a “must win” aka “Kiasu” backdrop where the definition of failure and success is so narrow – you either win or you lose. Since there is only one winner in any competition, does that mean the rest of the competitors are losers?
This narrow definition kills the joy of competition and little wonder why kids are dropping out of Sport!
“There is no point telling a 10-year-old kid ‘you have to win’, and every day he carries on his shoulder the burden of winning and trains in order to win. It takes away the joy of sports participation. Let him grow, learn and enjoy the sport.”
Mr Ong Kim Soon, Director of Physical, Sports & Outdoor Education Branch.
Parents who want to raise successful achievers view success and happiness as mutually inclusive. They often have a long term perspective and are able to define success in a way that taps into their children’s intrinsic motivation.
Tip 3: Success = Effort and Learning
School competitions are mainly won by the early developers – the taller and stronger kids and those who have access to better resources. Specifically, an early bloomer with (or even without) better resources will almost definitely beat the late developers.
Pause and think about this for a moment. If success is only about winning, where does this leave the late bloomers? Most of them would give up without developing their potential. Nothing is more discouraging to effort and persistence than knowing that you are deemed a loser despite your best efforts – it’s an invitation to helplessness.
Success = Winning OR, Success = Effort and Learning?
Would it be more worthwhile for us to adopt a longer-term perspective to success? One that helps kids develop a love of learning and resilience in the face of obstacles beyond sport.
When we focus on the effort that leads to progress and improvement, not only would this help the late bloomers who’s athletic abilities will only become apparent later, but we are also equipping our youth with the attributes to succeed in the game of life.
“So HOW exactly do we raise successful and happy athletes?”
Since this is the first post, I felt it was important to first reflect on the WHY, specifically,
1. The purpose behind youth sport and,
2. How we ought to define success in youth sport (or even in life!)
This understanding will provide you with the guidance when you start applying the HOWs which I will be sharing in the following posts.
Meanwhile, I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts and comments below
Links to Part 2 and 3 below: