How to Parent an Overzealous Athlete
We are a culture that loves sports. We make athletes bigger than life, and often children feel that they have to be good at sports in order to gain social status. Sometimes, that desire results in efforts to be great at a particular sport, despite limited physical skill or ability. Those efforts can result in frustration, poor self-esteem and feelings of incompetence. Parents often struggle in their attempts to balance providing encouragement with their desire to provide honest feedback.
Here are some ways to help achieve that balance when you have a young one who exerts significant effort in a sport but does not quite have the skill set to achieve at a high level.
Reinforce the quality of effort and enthusiasm exerted and other positive contributions they make to the sport or team, rather than focusing on things such as scoring points or wins and losses. As long as a young athlete is having fun, they benefit from the positive effects of sport participation.
Introduce and expose them to as many sports as possible. It’s not uncommon for athletes who don’t have the particular skill set for one sport to have a set of skills that allows them to thrive in another sport. As a result, it becomes important to expose young children to a variety of sports. Additionally, playing different sports decreases the likelihood of injury because it allows athletes to use different muscles.
Assist your child in developing realistic goals. Help them to think about skills they would like to improve upon, and to measure progress. Keep in mind that the skills do not have to be specifically related to athletic ability.
Keep your expectations in check. It’s hard not to put our expectations onto the children we care deeply about, and sometimes we think that our goals should be their goals. Young athletes’ perceptions of adult expectations can affect motivation and overall athletic experiences. If you find that the source of concern about your child’s athletic experience is based more on your own expectations, it’s time to take a step back.
There are many positive benefits that young people can receive from physical activity in general, and sports participation specifically. An enthusiastic athlete who participates fully, and sets and accomplishes goals despite a high level of skill can still gain much from their experiences.
Nyaka NiiLampti is an assistant professor of psychology at Queens University and co-director of Mind Over Body at Southeast Psych.