Kids are drawn to sports for many reasons. Perhaps their friends are on a team, and they want to play, too. Or maybe their parents were star athletes in college, so they feel pressured to follow the same path. Motivation comes into play with both examples, but one is higher-quality than the other. If you want your young athlete to develop an intrinsic love of sports, the way you motivate them matters.
As a parent, you play an important role in motivating your child. With the right techniques, you can help your young athlete develop autonomous motivation and enjoy the most fun, rewarding youth sports experience possible.
Children have been known to ban their own parents from watching games because of negative sideline behavior. If you catch yourself leaping out of your seat in annoyance, yelling at the referee, or making negative comments after your child’s team loses, make a pledge to stop these behaviors. Instead, remain a positive, encouraging spectator to prevent ruining your child’s enjoyment.
Do you linger at practice and watch your child’s every move? Do you then criticize their mistakes all the way home? This puts incredible pressure on your child and may spoil their fun. Let the coach offer critiques while you focus on praising your athlete’s efforts, even if they have a long way to go.
Don’t pressure your child to continue if they want to quit. Instead, provide them with other options, such as trying a new sport or pursuing different physical activities. Your child might change their mind and decide to return to sports after taking a few months off.
Your child can’t control their peers’ performance, so don’t make comparisons. Doing so could persuade your child to avoid risks or give up when others start to out-perform them. The better option is to point out when your child achieves their goals or sets new personal bests.
Your instinct may be to share your observations, but instead, try asking your child about their favorite part of the game or how they managed to pull off a particularly good play. The goal is to listen more than you talk on the way home from each game.
Make it clear that you value good sportsmanship more than winning. This might mean praising your child for their determination, even if they lose a match, or commending them for walking away when an opponent tries to get a rise out of them.
Kids learn differently at every stage of development, so it’s important to involve them in age-appropriate play. This is the best way boost confidence and promote a love of sports through friendly competition and gradual self-improvement.
Too much of a good thing can be bad. If practices, matches, and tournaments consume all your child’s free time, they may lose motivation simply because they miss having time for other activities. Strike a healthier balance by limiting each sport to one or two days per week. Then, encourage your child to take a break from sports for a couple of months per year to help prevent injuries and focus on personal wellness.
There’s a trend these days of parents encouraging their kids to specialize in just one sport. In most cases, parents are driven by the desire to see their child play sports at the collegiate or professional level someday. While most parents have good intentions, “sports specialization” makes overuse injuries more common in these athletes than in kids who cross-train. Children are also more likely to get bored if their parents only allow them to play one sport.
The solution is simple—let your child decide what they want to play. Maybe they choose soccer one season and flag football the next. Even if you want your child to pursue a primary sport, switching things up with a secondary activity keeps things interesting and helps them become a well-rounded, passionate athlete.
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