In Motivation/Goals, Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Problems in Youth Sports


The wonderful world of EXPECTATIONS and GOALS. It’s the start of a new year and with that, along with their New Year’s resolutions, many athletes begin to set goals for the upcoming season: “I’m going to finally make the varsity.” “I’m going to nail down that college scholarship.” I’m going to score double figures every game.” “I’m going to break 5:00 in the mile.” “I’m going to bat at least .350.” “I’m going to set the pool and Conference records!” Expectations, dreams, goals, call them what you may. They are another one of the athlete’s double-edged swords. When you know how to properly use your goals and expectations, they can help you cut through obstacles, overcome blocks, motivate yourself to get back up after falling and, ultimately, carve your athletic dream into a wonderful reality.

However, when you misuse goals and expectations, when you bring them out at the wrong time, they can physically and mentally tie you so tightly in knots that you will consistently choke under pressure and perform way below your potential. Athletes who misuse their goals continually experience frustration when they compete because they just can’t seem to execute the way that they’re capable.

Furthermore, the pressure that they experience right before and during competition makes it impossible for them to relax and have fun. Without the ability to feel loose and enjoy themselves, these athletes are more prone to performance slumps, fears, blocks and failure. If reaching your dream as an athlete is vitally important to you, if you want your son or daughter to really enjoy their sports experience and be as successful as possible, if you, as a coach want your athletes to come through in the clutch and consistently perform like champions, then it is critically important for you to understand the “A, B, C’s” of goals and expectations. In this blog series, we will explore how to use your expectations to motivate you to take your training to the next level without it interfering with your performance in competition. In my last post we discussed the do’s and don’ts for the athlete. Today we will address the parent.


“Stay young with an open mind.”

Want to stay young forever? Want the secret to a happy, vital life? Then dial 1- 800 – ASK ALAN! Seriously, I may be good, but I’m not that good! However, while I may not be able to provide you with the actual secret to keeping your body biologically in its’ youth, I can provide you with a little mental secret that will not only keep your mind and attitude forever young and vibrant, but will keep your relationship with your children in good health. What’s this mental Fountain Of Youth? Simple! KEEP A BEGINNER’S MIND.

Continually keep yourself open to change and possibility. Continually question the status quo in your mind. Examine other, possibly conflicting perspectives. Just because one way of doing something works, don’t think that there aren’t other, even more effective ways out there. There’s nothing that will age you faster and potentially alienate you from your kids than having a rigid, closed mind. Thinking that your way is not only the right way, but the only way will get you into more hot water performance and relationship-wise than you can imagine, not to mention the fact that it will turn you into an out-of-touch dinosaur. Let me explain.

As we grow and mature, we have all kinds of valuable life experiences that teach us various lessons. In these lessons we have the opportunity to expand and get smarter about the world and ourselves within it, or to do just the opposite, to contract and get dumber. Unfortunately, sometimes the experiences that we have in life traumatize us and we end up taking with us the wrong lessons about people and situations. We may learn that the world is a very dangerous, uncaring place or that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. Sometimes we learn that you can’t trust anyone or that good things always end badly. Or maybe we learn that whatever we do, it’s just not good enough. Certain bad experiences tend to generalize inside of us and so we close our minds to the possibility that things could ever be different. As a result, we go into new experiences expecting the same old, familiar, negative outcomes. Because we look for the negative, we close ourselves off to the positive and, as a result, usually find exactly what we don’t want.

The same can hold true for all of our interactions with people. We see our kids, the coaching staff or other parents in a narrow, overly rigid way. Our expectations and perceptions of others color and distort our ability to actually see who is in front of us and what they are really like. Instead, we see a projection of them that comes from our imagination and inner distortions. We reflexively interpret our children’s behaviors without taking the time to carefully listen to what they are really saying. We think we know what they’re thinking and feeling, we think we know their intentions for behaving a certain way, but many times we are flat out wrong or off base, and don’t even know it! Part of the problem is that as parents, we sometimes have difficulty seeing and accepting that our son or daughter is a distinctly different being from us. Our goals may not be her goals. What we may do in a certain situation may not be at all what he may do. He/she is not an extension of our psyche, but instead, a person in his or her own right. How quickly we have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager with parents who never took the time to listen to us and who always made assumptions about who they thought we were!

Consider this: It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into hot water with your kids or those around you. It’s what you do “know,” that you think is true, that in actuality is not! Not knowing is rarely the problem. Knowing false facts is! Where does all this false knowledge of yours come from? It has its’ roots in believing that your model and experience of the world, above everyone else’s, is the “right” one. Understand that your view of the world is only just that, your view! It is NOT necessarily the real world and it certainly does not always accurately represent others’ experiences of the world. When you adopt the belief that your perspective is the only one that counts, then you immediately close yourself off to conflicting or different world views, and in doing so you really age yourself, reduce your intelligence and decrease your level of interpersonal effectiveness. This kind of rigidity in relation to others will always hold you back and will ultimately alienate you from your children.

This really causes parent-child problems when the parent tries to impose his expectations upon the child-athlete’s. I know of no other factor that will cause so much harm to a child than having a parent’s expectations imposed upon him/her. You know the drill. You want your child to be successful. You think he has tremendous potential. You don’t want him to waste this great potential so you let your expectations do the parenting. As a consequence, your child’s work ethic, training and performances become more important to you than your child as a person. How many points she scored and her turnover-to-assist ratio becomes more important than her feelings and happiness. In these ways parental expectations become cruelly depersonalizing to the child, and this is where serious damage gets done.

Thinking that you know where others are coming from, that your child shares your goals and expectations, based on your internal map of the world without taking the time to honestly check out the validity of your perspective in relation to others is a sign of ignorance. What compounds this ignorance is when you take those “facts” that you know and use them to make decisions that affect your behavior and how you interact with others. Let me give you a brief example.

I was sitting in the stands last week watching my daughter and her high school basketball team get completely blown out by the opposition at an away game. It was a rather ugly, one-sided contest and my daughter’s team was completely outmatched. There was very little for us parents to cheer about other than the great play of our opponents. At one point towards the very end of the game my daughter was bringing the ball up court. She had been tentative and rather intimidated the entire game but for some reason with the game almost over, she did a spin move around her opponent, got free and then passed the ball off from inside the key. I didn’t quite see what happened next because I was so completely blinded by the utter brilliance of her move, but apparently there was a collision under the basket and someone from the other team was bumped by one of my daughter’s teammates. No one went flying and no one was seriously hurt. Having spent the entire game too closely connected with my daughter’s frustration at her tentative play, I called out to her “Great move!” A mother of an opposing player who was sitting nearby turned towards me and gave me a vile, penetrating, flat-out ugly look. If this were back in biblical times, that look would have turned me into a pillar of salt. It just so happened that I actually didn’t catch the initial power of her evil eye and when I finally turned to look, I saw her mumbling to the other people that she was with about what a sick, psycho parent I must be that I would cheer when one of their players was hurt.

All right! I confess! I’m guilty! I’m embarrassed to admit that she nailed me right on the head! Yes, I am a psycho, live-through-my-kids parent, masquerading as a Sports Performance Consultant. Not only that, but I spend my evenings wishing for nothing more than to watch all the other adolescents that my daughter has to compete against getting banged up and deliberately injured. In fact, I’ll even admit that I have hired Tonya Harding as a consultant for helping me deal with my daughter’s opponents. Yup! That’s me all right! I’m going to sit there and cheer for overly aggressive play, especially if it’s properly directed towards the opposing team. My motto is, “if you can’t beat them, then BEAT them!” “Sprain their ankles, kick’ em in the shins, we’ll do anything to insure a win!” Now it’s obvious that this woman was jumping to some pretty fast conclusions about me based on some very limited information. All she had heard was my cheering, which she immediately connected to the collision, not the play before. Perhaps in her model of the world, this was how basketball parents acted. Truth be told, she was just a tad off base and what she thought was true and right about me was just flat out wrong.

So how often do you respond this way with your kids or those around you? How often do you too quickly jump to conclusions about other’s behavior, intentions or feelings? (How often do you act as if your goals for your child in her sport are the same as your child’s?) In the heat of our emotions it is always much easier not to feel burdened by deep waves of thought. It is a fact that when we emotionally see red, we don’t end up seeing much of anything else. When we’re angry, scared or hurt we tend to say and do rather unhelpful, ill-timed and off-base things. As a matter of fact, in these situations we tend to react in a knee-jerk type way. Unfortunately when you respond reflexively like this, you tend to act like a jerk and, as a consequence, will later end up feeling like a jerk. So how do you step outside of yourself and respond to situations involving your kids and their sports less emotionally and more elegantly?

Tough question with no easy answer but let me be bold and take a stab at it! The best response that I can come up with is for you as a parent to spend more time being silent inside while your kids or others are talking. Most parents don’t really listen to their kids to the point where they actually hear what’s being said. Instead, while the child is speaking they are chattering in their own head, disagreeing with what’s being said while simultaneously rehearsing what they will say next in response. When you do this, you don’t ever really get a sense of where your son or daughter is coming from. As a result, you fail miserably in communicating with them. Furthermore, you leave them feeling alienated and misunderstood, which only makes whatever situation you were dealing with much less resolved. When your children speak you have to step outside of your model of the world and try to listen to them from their model. What are they feeling? What are they really saying to you? Can you understand what is bothering them? You can only connect with your kids by quiet, active listening, not by lecturing or talking at them, or imposing your will on theirs.

As parents you actually have a wonderfully built in Fountain of Youth in your kids. If you can be flexible enough to take the time to examine the world through their eyes, they will keep you young and alive. Of course, I am not even remotely suggesting that you should completely abandon your good reason, maturity or responsibility. What I am suggesting is that you practice keeping an open mind with your kids. Listen to what they are saying. Listen to their hopes and dreams. Pay attention to their goals. The benefits of this will be happy, emotionally strong kids and a healthy, happy parent-child relationship.




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