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"How to Support Your Child's Mental Game in Kids Sports Psychology"

(Blog By Coach Jack Margoupis)

     Youth sports have been problematic for quite some time. The damage created by parental expectations and unnecessary pressure at a young age has driven kids away from the sports that they love. Youth sports are designed for the enjoyment of kids, yet this enjoyment is stifled when parents involve themselves too heavily. The wrong type of parental involvement adds a degree of stress on the kids to reach high achievement in their sport. The main purpose of youth sports is to allow kids to socialize and exercise. These positive elements get thrown out the window when parents make it about themselves and interfere. In sports, observers typically blame children’s coaches for any misfortunes. If their child isn’t playing enough or not playing in a way that they feel they should be, then the blame is immediately placed on the coaches. It is unfair for these coaches to take the majority of the heat because parents can be the most dangerous outside factor to the youth. The negative effects parents can have on youth sports overrides the danger of bad coaching. 

        More and more people are starting to realize the truly adverse effects that parents have on youth sports. Parents continue to get consumed by success and lose track of what the real purpose is. The Reformed Sports Parents blog covers a variety of topics dealing with how parents are ruining youth sports. The article examined how adults, whether in person or on social media, will talk negatively about other kids. Speaking negatively about a kid, whether he is 6 or 18, is wrong, and raises concern for the direction of youth sports. If adults are now willing to tweet horrendous comments about another kid on twitter, it makes me wonder what is coming in the future.

 The first point made in the article is a great example of how parents’ immaturity is harmful. Buonocore says that parents need to keep their composure during these youth games. It's inappropriate and unnecessary to show intense emotion towards refs, coaches, and children. Buonocore says, Don't harass umpires, referees, officials, players, coaches, or other parents. Youth sports officials are likely not getting paid the big bucks to be there… Oftentimes, they're also just kids (Buonocore). The point he makes about officials not getting paid much was very intriguing. Often, these refs are just trying to make some side money and can sometimes even be inexperienced kids. Yelling at them to referee a youth game is completely unneeded and quite honestly, really embarrassing. Parents yelling at refs only embarrass the kid involved and angers everyone else around them. 

Buonocore also adds an incredible lesson on why coaching can be extremely beneficial for kids. Buonocore states, “It's important that kids are able to recognize and respect the coach's authority as well as understand that they can learn from adults who are not their parents” (Buonocore). Parents can sabotage the player-coach relationship, especially for younger children. Kids listen to their parents' words heavily at a young age, because that's what they are taught to do. Learning from other adults can be beneficial because of the surplus of ideas and opinions they can give, but if parents take that opportunity away, then their kids could suffer. This is a prime example of why parents can harm a kid's athletic experience more than a coach. If a parent criticizes a coach enough times, then the kid will start to believe that he is a bad coach also. Even if the coach is preaching the correct messages, the kid will often follow the parent’s word. Parents have such a large influence on kids in youth sports it can harm the sense of reality in the sport. This is why a kid can begin to lose focus on who is in charge while playing their sport. 

Buonocore also gives great guidance on how to support your kid and be involved with the game in the right way. Buonocore says, “You yelling from the sidelines isn't helping your kid; it's likely putting more pressure on them to perform and potentially creating an internal conflict in your child if what you're saying does not align with the coach's direction. Don't bash the coach publicly (from the sideline) or privately (on the car ride home)” (Buonocore). The added pressure from yelling is something kids do not need. If a kid really cares about their sport, then they already put enough pressure upon themselves to succeed, so the extra pressure from parents only hurts the child. Buonocore talking about the conflict of bashing coaches sums up how parents can make children’s sports messy. The power a parent has when making negative comments about a coach is too often overlooked. A young kid will hear their parents say the coach is bad and make that their opinion also. This is a key reason why parents can have a much more negative effect on youth sports than coaches. 

Some have an opposing take and argue that coaches are the main issue when it comes to youth sports. Many say that coaches ruin kids' confidence and degrade them with too much criticism. According to Kids Sports Psychology, coaches who over-correct ruin a kid's confidence, hurting their potential. The author says, “Coaches who over-correct or pick apart kids’ technique and criticize their players can undermine kids’ confidence and cause them to perform poorly and lose their enjoyment for the game” (Kids Sports Psychology). This stance is very intriguing because it seems to dictate how a coach should approach his job. The purpose of youth coaches is to teach and inspire kids to get better at that sport, and that gets difficult when you fear correcting them. There is definitely a fine line between correcting and insulting, but if coaches can’t help a kid, it raises a major question. How are you supposed to teach them? Kids Sports Psychology also introduces a very valid point. They state that, “Young athletes look up to their coaches and want to please them… when coaches are critical, it hurts kids’ confidence and makes them perform tentatively” (Kids Sports Psychology). Kids want to please their coaches because they have a sense of authority. 

Kids Sports Psychology also brings up coaches being critical a variety of times. This point is confusing because the purpose of a coach is to provide constructive criticism. If the coach isn't critiquing or allowing you to learn from your mistakes, then they aren't doing their job. It is difficult for a kid to hear negative comments, but that is a crucial life lesson. You are not always going to be told things you want to hear. The mindset of finding something positive at all times puts a coach in a really difficult position. It makes them shy away from the truth, which can stunt a player's growth in their sport. Good coaches have the ability to differentiate constructive criticism from blatant criticism. A good coach can change a player's life, which is why taking coaching seriously is so important. 

 Kids Sports Psychology ends the article with a remark for parents. This enforces the idea that parents have ultimate power over the kids and coaches. The article adds, “Parents should make sure that coaches are communicating positively with their kids. If a child seems frustrated and negative after practice, or mentions dreading practice and games, parents may need to meet with the coach to discuss possible solutions” (Kids Sports Psychology). The idea of parents controlling the relationship between kid and coach is wrong. This leads to an inauthentic relationship and gives parents far more power than they should have. Opinions such as this emphasize how parents can really alter a child's experience in youth sports. Rather than allowing the kid to prove himself or address the coach directly, they step in and make the situation about themselves. I’f a kid begins to love playing sports parents should be there to listen but not take action. The kid needs to come to the conclusion himself if the sport is worth playing or not.  Overall, it preaches a poor message and to take away accountability from the kid, and make decisions for them. 

        In my experience in sports, parents have made it less enjoyable than any coach could. The added pressure and fear of failing your parents is far worse than anything a coach can throw at you. I never worried about disappointing a coach, but I always worried about disappointing my family and myself. Youth sports were usually enjoyable for me, but it got messy at times with my dad and me. Whether it was him not being thrilled with my performance or the way I acted, he wouldn't hide how he felt. I would also see other parents acting this way towards their kids and it just never sat right with me. The volume of pressure to succeed in the eyes of your family is one of the many issues in youth sports.

 A key moment that I remember is losing the 7th grade travel championship. I had my worst game of the season shooting wise. I just couldn't get in rhythm and was given a technical for my behavior towards the ref. I was disappointed in myself, but my coach told me to keep going rather than take me out of the game. We ended up losing and I remember seeing the look of disappointment on my dad’s face. We got into the car, and he yelled at me for not playing well and screamed at me for the way I acted. I was a 10-year-old kid who just wanted to make his family proud, and the pressure became too much for me. Reasons like these are why I feel that parents harm youth sports far more than coaches. The reason I was scared to get on the floor that day was not because of the coach, but because of my dad being disappointed in me. Every coach I had in youth sports seemed to be there out of desire rather than obligation. At no point did I ever feel like I owed them anything, but I also felt that I owed a good performance to my family. The added pressure on the sidelines was something I struggled with when I was a kid and still do today. This is why I believe that parents have so much more of a negative impact on youth sports than coaches do. Don’t get me wrong there are very bad coaches in this world, but that can be solved. The ability to leave one team and go to another gets rid of the bad coaching aspect, but there are no codes that stop harmful parent behavior. Other than kicking the family out there is nothing that can be done to control bad parental behavior. 

        Youth sports are becoming very problematic because of the external voices surrounding them. Parents have way too much of an impact and take a child’s game and make it about themselves. The voices coming from the sidelines take the joy of the game and add pressure where it is not needed. The pressure created by parents not only affects how kids play but impacts the love for their sport. Parents may think they are supporting and doing what is best for their kids, but all in all, they are just hurting them. Youth sports often put the blame on coaches for harming young athletes, but at the end of the day it’s the parents that are the most dangerous. 

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