In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Problems in Youth Sports

With the start of another school year comes great excitement and anticipation for those who will be participating in sports. For some, this becomes a great way to make friends, have fun, learn new skills and reach for excellence. For others, it quickly transforms into a time of anxiety and fear.

If you’re a parent or coach who’s genuinely interested in creating a great sports experience for your kids then this is the perfect time – right at the start of a new season – to set a positive intention for the next few months or school year ahead.

Don’t carry your personal baggage into these relationships. Rather than using harshness to push your kids to the limit and force mental toughness on them, focus instead on lifting them up with inspiration and positive motivation to invite them to pull themselves up to greatness.

Let’s talk about the important role you play in the performance outcome of your kids and how much of an impact this can have way beyond this sports season.

If our families treat us with kindness, compassion, and praise, we “internalize” these voices and treat ourselves this way as we mature. In fact, much of our positive self-talk derives from what we heard in those early interactions. If those early caretakers and individuals were consistently unkind, critical, and demeaning, however, then we learn to treat ourselves in that way. Thus, our negative self-talk has its roots in these earlier communications. Add to this our subsequent interactions with teachers, coaches, and teammates in childhood and adolescence and we see how our self-talk is reinforced.

The negative self-talk phenomenon applies to YOU as well, and you have the power to recognize when it happens and bring your attention away from the inner critic and back to the present situation. When you work on that in yourself, you’ll be much more able to recognize when your kids are doing it and help them lean into it with openness and self-compassion rather than useless and downright damaging self-perpetuating judgment.

Did you notice how I didn’t say to replace any negative thoughts with positive ones?

In the traditional sports approach, the athlete is encouraged to battle with the negativity and replace it with “positive self-talk.” The ultimate goal is to challenge and even banish the inner critic, but when we try to do that it always returns with even greater force. This is usually manifested in our bodies as increased anxiety, lack of coordination, and the freeze response. The dreaded performance yips represent the final stage in the critic’s hostile takeover and the athlete has more and more trouble focusing.

Learning how to disengage from the struggle with the inner critic takes time, patience, and a lot of practice. In the beginning, it’s tough not to get caught up and feel deflated.

The first step the athlete can take is to simply listen to the chatter from outside “observer’s stance” and not judge or evaluate what he or she hears. Do not fight with this part of the self.

Just notice what it is saying. This observer will feel very different to the critic in you and will eventually take some of the steam out of its attack.

This ability to unemotionally track your mind from moment to moment without judgment is called “mindfulness,” which comes from the practice of meditation. It is one of the mental skills that will ultimately help you to make the transition from performance block to performance expansion. In essence, it is a way of learning to trust yourself, your deeper self.

Keep this in mind for the season ahead, for both yourself if you’re an athlete, parent, or coach, and for the athletes around you. You’ll have a much more joyous and successful season if you do!

This is a brief blog post with my thoughts, but if you’re looking for deeper information I highly recommend taking a look at my books and CD’s below. I have applied over 30 years of my experience to these products and I think you’ll gain amazing benefits from using them.


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