Good sports parenting!


Get involved! Have enough interest and responsibility to get involved yourself and stay involved. Encourage fun. Nothing, according to the research, predicts excellence like creating a fun filled experience. This needs to be the focus of the parent, not criticism, not scrutiny, not worrying about winning or losing.  Keeping it all in perspective is absolutely essential and it is the parent that needs to provide the balance for this to occur.  There is fun in the sense of accomplishment.


Your son or daughter will take pleasure in mastering an athletic skill.  Many times this sense of  will lead to a repeat performance because of the enjoyment of hitting the ball solidly or catching a throw becomes self-reinforcing. The feeling of self-confidence and success comes with a sense of accomplishment. Of course there are many trials and errors.   Remember, as children try to master new skills, they are going to become frustrated at finding that their abilities can only take them so far. It is at this point that the parent has a major input and influence in this regard.  Going through life with a knowledge of strengths and limitations is a valuable tool. Support your child and have fun yourself!   Everybody wins.


More than 20 million youth play sports each year and, in the majority of cases, the parents are also actively involved as much as their children. You want to share in your child's successes and be there as he/she masters an athletic skill, whether it is a first hit or striking out four batters. But, while you are enjoying the thrill of being a kid through your child's eyes, you have to keep your role of adult and parent in mind. It is up to you to know when you are pressing too hard, boasting too much or acting overly critical. This is a fine line but the standard needs to be everything in moderation.  Listening skills are very critical - pay close attention to the non-verbal messages as well.



In a poll conducted by USA Today in 1990, kids made the following observations:

"   71% of the kids surveyed said they would prefer that no scores were kept in their games.

"     37% wished the parents did not watch them play.

"     41% said they have stayed awake at night worrying about their upcoming game.

"     51% said the other kids act like poor sports.

" 75% of kids by age 15 who started playing organized sports at ages 6-7 have already stopped playing due to the competitive nature and stresses that sport puts on young people

Ultimately, the parent should enjoy, encourage and get involved. That is the best gift you can give your son or daughter.   Talk to them about setting goals and the benefits of what they are doing.  Ask them what they want to do and what goals they may have.  Their answers may be simple and obvious, but sometimes they are not.

Parents need to take time to think about organized sports and what it is they want their children to experience. For example, do you want your child to use sports as a pathway to a professional sports career? Do you want them to simply enjoy themselves? Do you want them to learn about team play and sportsmanship? Or, do you merely want you child to get some fresh air and exercise?  Too many parents go through the process of signing up their children for organized sports without giving it a second thought. They think these activities are merely a rite of passage. It has become a routine in our society.  Maybe a youngster would prefer cooking, art or dance classes.  Lessons are learned from any activity chosen. 

Sports, even at the earliest ages are competitive and there are opposing views about competition.  Some experts believe that competition is detrimental and to be avoided at all costs.  They feel that artificial incentives such as trophies, gold stars, grades and extra time watching television can kill what is known as " intrinsic motivation" or internal rewards. Other  experts believe that competition is not bad if handled appropriately, if feedback is given and values are taught as part of the athletic program. In fact, the belief is that it teaches young people not only to cope with sport, but also how to deal with life issues. The fact still remains that too much competition can quickly sour positive experiences in sport.  We need to be careful and avoid extremes.

Parents have a n influence on how this process works and whether it is fun or not. It is important for parents to be involved in the process. Following these simple guidelines will assure that you are on the right track as a parent and your children will benefit the most through their involvement in sports.



Oftentimes parents push their children to accomplish what the parents could not. This is what experts call "achievement by proxy". This can damage the child-parent relationship. One thing the parent must not do is overdo. Don't wear T-shirts saying "Johnny's Mother", don't go to every practice, and don't criticize. Remember, your child should not have mom or dad scrutinizing every move on the playing field. Kids actually see themselves differently than parents do. The typical 9 or 10-year-old sees sports as an opportunity to be with friends, wear a uniform and have fun. After a loss, kids are down for a few minutes and then its "can we go eat?" or "can I stay with my friend tonight?"



Too often parents get overly invested in their children. It sets up a negative scenario where the parent becomes dissatisfied when he/she sees his/her child make mistakes. Commenting about these issues makes the child anxious and tense. Performance lags result. I remember one little 11-year-old boy who was scared to go on the field because his dad might criticize him. He balked every time his name was made part of the lineup. The parent didn't realize the impact he was having on his son and the young man could not express his concerns to his father. He simply felt pressure. The main thing is not to "sweat it" and to enjoy having your child involved in a sport. It is crucial to understand that mistakes are part of the sport and how the child learns to solve those mistakes is vital to his/her development.



Obviously, coaches are powerful role models for children. Even with the best intentions, however, coaches can make mistakes. They are human. When things do not go in an expected way, it is my recommendation that you schedule a time with the coach in order to promote clarity in handling tense situations. A major factor in looking at a coach is whether he treats people fairly. Does he have integrity? Does he know the fundamentals of the game? Parents should ask the coach's philosophy, how he evaluates children and what his/her expectations are for the child. This tends to open communication and usually goes a lot further in resolving an issue.




1.                          Don't act as if winning is everything. At the same time, don't wring your hands over a loss. A win or loss often lasts for only a few minutes for younger children. After that, children become more interested in going out for pizza.

2.                          Don't launch into an instant post-game analysis of the game. Rick Wolf, sports psychologist, calls it "station wagon syndrome" when your child is in the back seat and is a prisoner with the parent as the inquisitor. Let your child tell you what he/she should have done.


1.                          Offer a cooling off period. Put your arm around them and let them know that they are out here for the fun of it and there will always be another day.

2.                          Ask questions about performance. What is the one thing you did that you would like to do again? What is the one thing that you would like to do differently? What did you learn about yourself today?" These type of questions can help a child ventilate and get their feeling out rather than sitting through a lecture.

3.                          When you find yourself wanting to ridicule, take a deep breath and reflect. Remember, you were once young and had the same experiences.

Many of these ideas were generated by Gary Gllegwold who is a Minneapolis writer, parent, and coach. If these things are of interest to you as a parent, ask about our lecture series where you can learn more about how to Parent Your Athlete.

Show appreciation …This article is specifically written for both coaches and parents. It is a time when we are gearing down some sports and starting up other ones as the new season begins. Following the end of each youth league season there is frequently a team party or some other get-together where the head coach says a few words about his players. It is also customary to give each child a trophy, plaque or certificate to recognize the athletes' efforts during the course of the season. Sometimes coaches, and even parents, may show some favoritism or single out individual players for special trophies, which symbolize outstanding performance. A colleague of mine, Rick Wolff, who writes for Sports Illustrated, recommends some words of advice in this regard implying that when a coach singles out certain members of the team, he/she is merely trying to give a talented athlete an extra pat on the back or extra recognition. Of course there is nothing wrong with this type of sentiment. However, both the coach and parents should be sensitive to the types of awards given because sometimes they may backfire. By merely trying to recognize and salute one or two players on the team, the efforts of the other members of your team may unintentionally be undermined.

Obviously, the youngster who receives the larger, fancier, MVP trophy is thrilled but the problem is that the other players on the team instinctively begin to think that their efforts are not as important. They may think that the player who received the awards is no better than they, in terms of their skill. This recognition process, if not handled correctly, may tend to inadvertently alienate the rest of the team. Athough this can occur accidentally, it may add to jealousy and undermine team cohesion.

Parents also need to be aware of these issues because they also can add to this dilemma. The implication that this type of situation occurs enough means that ceremonies need to be carefully planned and executed. The best recommendation of all is that as each player accepts his/her individual award, it may be important to make 2-3 positive comments about the youngster's performance, effort, and improvement. This may not be easy in some cases, but it is necessary. This way, each player goes away happy, sharing in the limelight, and knowing that he/she has been singled out by the coach for a job well done. The purpose of the celebration, or awards ceremony, should reinforce the idea that it was so much fun to be on the team, and to play on the team, that the player may want to come back next season and participate again. Dr. Wolff also recommends some other ideas, which may be important at a team party or team celebration.


 They include the following:

1.       Ask a parent to bring a videotape to the party, so that the moment when each child's performance is praised can be recorded. Then make a copy of the tape for each player.

2.        Every young athlete expects some sort of positive salute at team parties. Make sure you provide them.

3.       The good feeling of a party or ceremony can also be the ideal occasion to privately mend any hurt feelings with parents or players that resulted during the season.

Although these recommendations seem simple and obvious, they will likely require as much work as your child faces on the field of play.


It is not unusual, as a parent who coaches a youth league, to have one or more of your children on the team. This presents a unique set of circumstances. You are burdened to not show favoritism towards your child and to not become overly critical of your child's performance. I have observed situations in which the parent/coach has been much harder on his/her own child than on other team members. This can create frustration for the child and can affect your child's self-esteem. I have also observed situations in which the coach pays little or no attention to his/her own child and gives much more attention to other members of the team in terms of skill development and encouragement. Obviously, this creates additional pressures for the coach's child. As a coaching parent, you need to concentrate on every child's emotional development including your own, and provide an opportunity for each child to find success on the playing field. This means teaching skill development and being a supportive observer during practice or during games for all players. If you as a coach are concerned that your child is not getting enough input from the father/mother coach, it may be necessary to have one of your assistants make sure that your child is getting enough individualized attention in order to enhance performance. Oftentimes, the coaching parent believes he/she gives his/her child enough attention at home and shouldn't have to do so during practice or on the playing field. This is a mistake and should not be part of your coaching style.

Effective communication with your child is needed at home and on the practice or playing field. It is important to use positive thinking and a positive approach to motivate your child. Also demonstrate proper listening skills, even though you may be dealing with a large group of players. This applies to all members of your team, but specifically to your own children who sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Whether you are a coach who overly attends to your child on the playing field or one who tends to deter attention, the following issues are important for every young athlete.

1.      Provide a positive social and emotional environment for all young athletes. You, as a coach, should recognize and understand the developmental nature of the athletes' motivation for sport, and adjust his/her expectations accordingly. This specifically applies to your own children.

2.      Subscribe to a philosophy that emphasizes personal growth of young people by encouraging and rewarding achievement for personal goals and a demonstration of effort.

3.      Demonstrate appropriate behaviors to the athletes by maintaining emotional control and demonstrating respect to all athletes including your own children, officials, and fellow coaches.

4.       Demonstrate effective communication skills necessary for appropriate feedback, and use a positive approach to motivate your young charges.

5.       Emphasize and encourage discussion of matters concerning the display of sportsmanship in competitive and noncompetitive situations. This may be even more important with your own children because sometimes they tend to act-out when they are not getting what they perceive to be the appropriate amount of attention from their parents.

6.      Be sufficiently familiar with the principals of motivation, goal setting, and positive reinforcement, in order to apply them in constructive ways.

7.      Be able to structure practice in competitive situations that reduce stress, and teach young athletes how to reduce undue stress that they experience when they perform. These issues are even more important if your own children are on your team.

By following these simple rules, you can avert some of the feelings of being misunderstood or not getting attention from a parent who happens to be a coach.                                            

Mental training as a self coaching strategy

It is interesting, as we look at all the golf magazines and training aids on the market, most focus on equipment and other training aids that have to do with the mechanics of golf. Few are aimed at assisting the golfer to maximize their mental game. As we all know, competitive golf involves both stress and structure. Both conditions require a high level of what sport psychologists refer to as "task oriented behavior". Task oriented style is characterized by learning how to recognize mistakes and how to correct them as part of the learning process. The task-oriented approach involves periods of time on the practice range, working on skill development and, generally, working with your pro to develop the proper mechanics of golf. The task oriented player receives this information and makes it part of his/her arsenal to better improve the game.


Golf also involves stress and, at times, this stress can be detrimental to your game. It may influence your behavior in negative ways and get you into a negative thinking process, which only deters your skills. Remember that a certain amount of stress is needed to facilitate your performance but too much stress can manifest itself in negative ways. Players need to learn how to objectively assess their levels of vulnerability to stress and how to set up appropriate strategies to compensate them. It is important to remember that the grandest quality of the true achiever is persistence. This often means fighting off discouragement and difficult times and in playing through slumps in performance. The following list of strategies may be helpful in assisting you to maintain a standard of confidence and a winning attitude.

1. Balance. This important emotional factor helps maintain consistency. Acceptance of oneself and a deep sensitivity to others is a crucial characteristic of achieving this balance. Keeping your temper and emotions under control calms you, and the people you play with, and prevents you from exposing your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to the opposition. I was on a course recently when someone "blew a gasket" and started yelling at his fellow players. At first this was funny but it only undermined the foursome's level of play and actually made the person kicking up the fuss look somewhat ridiculous. Good golf etiquette does not promote such behavior or tolerate it.

2. Positive thinking. Maintaining a positive outlook is vital to achieving emotional balance. If you have emotional balance you can focus your attention on your game. While it is unrealistic to expect everyone to smile in the face of adversity, projecting an attitude of "it ain't over till it's over" improves your own morale and your own motivation. It can give you the mental edge in matches.

3. Respect. This concept deals with respect for yourself and for those with whom you play. It is an act of honoring or showing high regard for the opinions, wishes, and judgment of others, and at the same time, validating yourself. It means giving credit to others when credit is due and credit to yourself when you play consistently and at your level of capability.

4. Vision. It is important that you have a vision, in terms of how you want to create your game. This means laying the foundation of what you want to accomplish, putting it into place and looking at short term and long-range goals. The power that results ultimately minimizes distractors so that you can focus on important matters.

5. Goal Setting. Setting goals helps monitor progress, maintain structure and keep the focus on what you want to accomplish. Set immediate goals daily or weekly and long-term goals for yourself and determine the most effective way to implement these goals. Sharing your goals with your pro allows him/her to give you assistance and motivate you for continued improvement. It also promotes how to efficiently and effectively work toward those goals.

6. Commitment to continued improvement. If you are a serious golfer, it is important that you encourage yourself to commit to a standard of excellence and to strive to improve your skills. Each player should always look toward improvement and set an example for others to follow. Work toward excellence and recognize that the work is never done.

7. Value character not reputation. A person always needs to place the most importance on his own character, not on his reputation. Learning from others and never ceasing to be the best you can is an important factor in this process.

Employing performance techniques, such as the ones outlined above, allows you to maximize your own performance without degrading your physical or emotional integrity. Most successful players review their own mental preparation and consider it as important as their physical preparation and skill development.

Staying clear of distractors

The mind is a very powerful tool and by thinking in a positive way and by learning how to do that on the golf course you can stay clear of distractors and be more consistent in your game.

John Cook, in the 1983 Tournament Players Championship, had an excellent chance to win the tournament and he would have won a ten-year exemption that went along with the win as well. But, as he was walking up to the 18th tee, a lady in the gallery caught Cook's attention and gave him some advice. She said, "Now young man, what ever you do, don't hit it into the water." Those words implanted a negative thought into Cook's mind. He did not visualize nor did he go through his normal pre-shot routine. He let her comment distract him and, sure enough, he hooked his shot into the lake and pulled a double bogie on the hole. This is a perfect example on how you can easily become distracted by the comments of others or how we can distract ourselves by thinking in a negative way or tentative way when we address a shot. Sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We do not fully believe that we can hit the shot and often divert from our pre-shot routine, setting up the potential for disaster to occur during a round. Distractors come in all forms and shapes. It may be the lady on the golf course, weather factors, golfers on another hole cheering when one of their colleagues makes an excellent shot, or it can simply be how we "talk to ourselves".

All of the above factors tend to deter consistency and can easily affect confidence. All golfers seek that "can't miss feeling". Confidence is a critical ingredient in this process and, as confidence increases, performance increases as well. Understandably, we cannot go out and buy these things in a store. It has to be something that we develop over a period of time. It is a process.

In the United States Open in 1996, Lee Jansen scored a great round and then skyrocketed with a triple bogie in his second round. When interviewed, he indicated that he was distracted and his game started to spiral. Situations like this can cause confidence lags and affect momentum even in the best golfers. Obviously, highly skilled golfers like Lee Jansen are able to rebound from such adversity. Why? Because confident athletes believe in themselves. They believe in their ability to acquire the necessary skills and confidence and divert from mental distraction. They play in any type of weather and simply do the best they can.

I remember one golfer who consulted with me and complained that he could not play in rainy or damp conditions. Obviously, it affected his approach to his game and often his scores in such conditions. In this case, he let a distractor, rain, get in his way, rather than realizing that all his competitors had to play in the rain and have to learn how to do so no matter what the terrain or weather conditions. Over time, by diverting him away from weather conditions and focusing on his mechanics, pre-shot routine, and different types of shots out of mud, grass, putting on wet greens, he was able to improve his confidence. He realized that during rainy conditions he became more impulsive and attempted to hit his shots more quickly and did not account for the needed changes in his game consistent with the weather conditions. He was able to gain more confidence in this regard and his preoccupation with weather diminished.


Distractors are a common cause of performance lags in many sports. They can come in all forms and shapes. It might be a comment made by someone else, weather conditions, or it may be how we "talk to ourselves". In any event, distractors can get in our way and keep us from achieving the level we are capable of in our sport.


Distractors create inconsistencies in performance. All athletes seek that "can't miss feeling". Confidence is a crucial ingredient in this process and, as confidence increases, performance increases. If we become distracted, our confidence lags and our momentum may be diminished. Recently, an athlete consulted with me complaining that he could not play in damp or rainy conditions. Obviously, it affected his approach to his game and his performance suffered. Over time, by assisting him to focus away from weather conditions and back to the essentials of his game, he was able to divert himself from the very things that were getting in his way. He realized that during rainy conditions, he tended to become more hurried and confused and he failed to account for the needed changes in his game consistent with the weather conditions. This created variations in his performance and frustrated him greatly. By assisting him to become more focused on mechanics, physical requirements and skill required, he was able to gain more confidence and his preoccupation with weather diminished.


1. Practice in all weather conditions. Brave it out and practice under adverse conditions once in awhile, always practicing with a purpose. If you are not working on some improvement then you are cutting yourself short.

2. Practice frequently and keep sessions short. If you practice too much or tooling, your concentration spans become shorter and you may become more easily distracted and less alert.

3. Add variation to your practice routine. Work on different types of body movements and mechanics, always with the purpose of improving your sport.

4. Use positive self-talk. Forget that you choked the last round. Chastising yourself with "I should of...", "I can't...", or, "I'm such a ...!!." type statements only interfere with your performance and they, themselves, become distractors. According to research, such negative thoughts can divert your attention from play as long as nine minutes every time you do it.

5. Write down positive self-statements in a log and read them daily. Such statements should be made in the present tense as, "I am well prepared.", "I expect to play well." Use a system of goals that are not only motivating, but create more discipline both in training and during competition. Write down your short term and long-term goals and determine what rewards would satisfy you once the goals are met.

6. Act confident. Poor posture and a tentative gait can only cue your opponents to your weaknesses but it can also cue your own body and mind to play in a less confident manner. It is often necessary to "fake it until I make it" until you achieve the level of confidence that you are comfortable with and use a confidence "lock" in the game or match and visualize yourself playing the way you expect to.

7. Remember that shifting attitudes about your game can also lead to distractors if your mindset is diverted from your sport. Take the bad with the good and maintain an overall positive attitude.