How to handle the pressure on kids in sports

Win or lose, your post-game parenting can help shape how your child copes with the competition. Try these tips to relieve the pressure.

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For young athletes who are just learning about competition, off-the-field parenting can play a big role in shaping how they handle the demands to perform well and win. These dos and don’ts can help you keep sports fun and pressure-free for your child.

Don’t focus on outcomes
Little boy throwing a baseball Is your child at risk for overuse injuries from sports? Your kid’s hat trick might seem like a reason for a post-game ice cream, but remember that rewarding victories can intensify the pressure. “You’re probably thinking that you’re celebrating something great, but your kid might be reading it as, ‘This is what my parents expect. This is what makes them happy,’” says Beth McCharles, a mental performance coach.

Do focus on process
Comments like, “You were working so hard out there!” and “I love watching you play!” send a message about what really matters.

Do follow the 24-hour rule
After a game, emotions are often running high, so it’s not the ideal time for criticism (even the “constructive” kind). Many kids sport organizations encourage parents to wait a day for any post-game analysis (the same goes for any discussions you might want to have with the coach).

Don’t try to make it better
Learning how to experience loss is part of the drill. “It’s an opportunity to teach kids how to take risks and fail in a low-consequence environment,” says Glen Mulcahy of Paradigm Sports. “When you try to fix everything, you’re getting in the way of development.”

Do show you’re OK
Your child may have trouble accepting the “it’s not whether you win or lose” message if your disappointment is evident.

Read more:
What rep sports are really doing to kids
4 reasons I’m so glad my kid’s sports season is over

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