As my son sat on the baseball field during his league game, refusing to participate, I questioned whether or not I should have signed him up and if it was in his best interest to finish out the season. My mother once told me that young athletes need to be given some liberty when it comes to after-school activities, but I waiver between over-scheduling and giving my son and daughter license to quit. As I thought back on my own ventures with ballet, tap, swim, gymnastics and piano as a young girl, I realized that my indecisiveness in my youth was my way of figuring out who I was, what I was passionate about, and whether or not I had the skill, ability, and motivation to pursue those passions.
My son ended up finishing out his one and only season of Little League, and shortly after found his passion in soccer. But unlike some of the players on his team, his ability and skill level do not come without diligent practice. There have been moments of frustration and discouragement in the midst of triumph and fulfillment. As a parent, I have to balance my desire to motivate him to excel with a realistic perspective of where his skill level is.
Every athlete, irrespective of age has potential, and as a mom, my role is to motivate, support, and inspire my son to play his best. Whether you have a preschooler just dipping his/her toes into sports or a competitive school-aged athlete, here are my 5 tips for motivating young athletes:
- Help your athlete discover his/her unique abilities. In a large family, it might make sense to have each athlete play the same sport. But just like each athlete has his/her own personality, interests and skill level will vary. Provide opportunities for athletes to try multiple sports until they find the one that they are passionate about.
- Use failure as a teachable moment. While inherent skill and ability is a reality, for many young athletes, this only comes with practice, vigilance, and learning from mistakes. Approach criticism constructively in a way that inspires and builds confidence.
- Consider serving as a coach or team parent. One Fall season, when our league was short of coaches, I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team. My apprehensions were appeased when the Region Coordinator reminded me that my role was largely to teach age-appropriate skills, help build self-esteem, and inspire teamwork and sportsmanship. Parental involvement is essential in league sports and young athletes absolutely love when their parents are involved and invest time in something they are passionate about
- Remind your young athlete (and yourself) that team sports should be fun. I can’t tell you the number of times the soccer field was lined with parents on-edge during a game. Young athletes tend to model the behavior of their parents and can sense when they are stressed. Practice, discipline and the refinement of skills can be completed in an environment that is fun, engaging, and positive.
- Engage the coach or a mentor to refine skills. In certain instances, my son and daughter have each responded differently (and subsequently more favorably) to guidance and instruction from someone other than myself. Coaches, in particular, can help young athletes understand what is needed to hone skills so that their failures aren’t seen as insurmountable feats.
POWERADE believes that with the right motivation, everyday athletes can realize their potential. Every athlete starts in the same place and at one time was “just a kid” from somewhere. Their “Just a Kid” campaign celebrates and recognizes the positive impact sports have on our community. For a limited time, anyone who purchases two 8-packs of 20 ounce POWERADE at Walmart can submit the receipt and order a free custom “Just a Kid” reusable sports bottle. And if you want to represent your “somewhere” with custom “Just a Kid” apparel, you can order online (all net proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Club of America).