Avoiding The Five Common Mistakes Of Sports Parents

Graham Winter, Performance Psychologist

Our Kids Are Under Attack

Every day our children are bombarded by social media messages built on algorithms designed by some of the smartest people on the planet to get them to react emotionally.

Those algorithms do pretty much the opposite of what you would do if you set out to develop emotionally healthy kids.


Instead of building composure social media often generates anxiety; instead of developing a strong sense of self worth it reinforces needs for approval; and instead of training concentration it encourages shallow attention.


The Good News

Fortunately sport has the opposite effect by developing composure, self worth and concentration skills, however sometimes those benefits get lost because of five common mistakes we can easily make as parents.

Mistake 1. Losing = Loser

Let’s be clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with competitive sport for children. It helps them learn some brilliant life skills of which losing is one. The problem comes when parents act as if losing is terrible, which trains kids to look for shortcuts, and attach their self worth to the week by week results. Losing can sting a little but so will a thousand other things in their lives, so take the opportunity to build resilience by helping them to lose without being a loser.

Mistake 2. Being a Critic

My least favourite sports parents are those who are quick to criticise their own children’s mistakes and short comings, and equally as ready to lay it on the coach or teammates when their child doesn’t do well.

Kids with critical parents develop their own inner critic and that’s not the legacy any of us want to leave our children.

Mistake 3. Over-Protecting

Some parents never want their children to grow up and they show it in the way they make all the decisions for the child and protect them from consequences such as not being prepared for their match.

By the age of twelve, psychologically healthy children will be quite self reliant and independent, which of course only happens if their parents are intent on developing adults, not maintaining the parent-child power game.

Mistake 4. Compare and Contrast

Can there be anything more destructive for a child than when their parents continually compare them to others? No matter whether that’s intended as positive or negative reinforcement, the base message is ‘You are not ok unless you beat someone else’. Imagine the damage that does, and it’s little wonder the scourge of perfectionism is on the rise.

Mistake 5. Outcomes Before Effort

This mistake is a bit more subtle because we do want to develop an achiever mindset in children, however instead just giving all manner of hugs and high fives for a win, take the time to recognise that the success came from practice and effort. Parents who don’t do this (in sport and study) tend to develop kids who put limits on their abilities, whereas those who reinforce effort tend to develop kids who persevere and grow.

You Are So Important

If you recognise any of these five mistakes in yourself (and how could anyone not do some of these) then reflect on how important a parent is in a child’s life.

Your child is looking to you to interpret the world and their place in it, so the more you can help them see their own self worth, their uniqueness, and their potential the more you are equipping them with the resilience and self confidence they’ll need throughout their lives.

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