Sport Parenting Tips from a Non-Parent (2 of 3)

Thanks for the many responses to the previous post.

Today’s post focuses on the HOWs to help young athletes do their best without being overwhelmed by the pressures to win and to look good. Specifically, the focus is on how we can help young athletes build resilience in sport and life through a constructive Parent – Athlete relationship.

Tip 4: Stop “Should-ing!”

Imagine a parent who’s driving his kid to competition while relentlessly reminding her about what she must, should or should not do.

What’s that going to do to her mental game? Not only is this annoying, but she is also going to bring all these perceived demands into the game and she’s either going to try too hard or become too tentative and cautious. Both are opposite sides of the same coin stemming from a fear of failure and judgement.

What is this parent likely to do right after the game? No prizes for guessing! He will go into a barrage of “You should have-s” and “I told you so-s”.

No wonder sports is no longer fun and the young athlete suffers from performance anxiety!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that feedback and reminders are important but there has to be a better way to do this.



Tip 5: Ask instead of Tell

Instead of saying “You should grip the club with your fingers instead of your palm.” Try “What’s the best way to hold your club?”

Instead of saying “You should really start scoring.” Try “What have you learnt from your coach that will help you shoot more accurately?”

“The brain that does the thinking, does the learning…” Ms Penny Crisfield, International Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE) Master Trainer

Is it wrong to Tell? You are the adult and you are simply using your knowledge and experience to teach your kids what to do. What’s so wrong with that? Well, it’s not wrong to tell and it really depends on whether your instructions are based on the process or outcome.

Telling is associated with Teaching while Asking is related more to Coaching. Good coaching is a combination of Telling and Asking. The problem is that we are relying so much more on Telling rather than Asking to coach athletes.

Tip 6: More Coaching and Less Teaching

This is related closely to Tip 5. Teaching is primarily a one-way interaction. The teacher is the expert and shows or tells the learner how to do something. The learner either gets it right or wrong.

Meanwhile, the coach asks questions and works with the athlete to develop skills to think deeply and creatively in order to resolve the issue themselves. Coaching is about development and HOW to get it right.

The Teaching – Coaching ContinuumIndeed, Coaching requires practice and experienced coaches use a range of techniques to encourage learners to become confident and independent thinkers. However, this does not mean that you can’t coach. Now, I don’t mean interfering with the Sports Coach. Let the Coach do his job on the field. In fact, you ought to respect the coaches’ role instead of giving contradicting pointers.

What I’m suggesting is a better way to do a review (after practice or competition) with your young athlete instead of going into a tirade of ‘I told you so-s’!  

Tip 7: Review with the ESL Reflection Model

The ESL reflection model (scroll down to the infographic) is a feedback tool that I’ve developed for both coaches and parents. They have found it to be simple, intuitive and effective!

It is based on the three behaviours associated with the Growth Mindset – Effort, Support and Learning. Under each behavior, you will find questions or thinking routines intended to help align your athlete’s thoughts with the Growth Mindset.

Remember to do a review only when the athlete is receptive. Attempting to do so when the athlete is feeling emotional after a loss is definitely a bad idea!

Also, you may want to first understand the principles behind this model before applying it. Here’s an earlier post with a more detailed explanation about the ESL model.

Tip 8: Praise Effort and Learning

You’ve probably heard this one before but it’s a worthwhile reminder. Praising talent and ability actually pushes your young athlete towards the Fixed Mindset where she is more likely to be overly concerned about how she looks, be more likely to suffer from performance anxiety, and gives up easily.

Learners who are praised for effort tend to value hard work and striving to learn far more than looking smart. Here’s an article that elaborates more about this. Meanwhile, I’ve summarized Tips 7, 8 and more with the infographic below.

ABCs to Growth Mindset_ME

These 5 tips can make a huge difference to an athlete’s motivation, mental game and whether they are thinking in the Growth or Fixed Mindset.

Specifically, we are helping athletes develop confidence and resilience by focusing their energies on what they have control over (e.g., process goals, effort and learning from mistakes), rather than feeling helpless and anxious over things that they have no direct control over (e.g., winning and how others will perceive them).

They are also more likely to be reflective independent thinkers who have fun while pursuing their sporting goals.

In the spirit of “Coaching and Asking”, I will close this post with a question for parents to ponder over….

“If you were to practice these 5 tips (instead of the typical “Kiasu and Should-ing” style of parenting), what implications would that have on your relationship with your children?”

Be back with the last 4 tips relating to the role of a parent in Sport next month!

Coach Hansen

p.s. Realised that I’ve actually blogged quite extensively about Coaching and the Growth Mindset. Here are the links to them…

“So You Think You’re Special?”
Effort, Support & Learning
Why ‘Good Job’ is not good enough…
Growth Mindset…Seriously?
Why all coaches should watch this movie…
The Paradox of Winning & Losing
Changing the Way We Teach Mindset (and the Mindset of how we teach…)

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