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Parenting Child-Athletes

As parents, we love our kids, and want them to succeed. Naturally we want them to outperform other kids, and reach their potential. Unfortunately, that love can lead us to behave in ways that hurt their development, and our relationships with them.

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital's Sports Parenting program.Those behaviors may include:

  • Coaching from the sidelines
  • Yelling at referees
  • Only reinforcing winning or successful outcomes
  • Overly investing in sport and/or assuming too much responsibility for your child’s participation
  • Demanding perfection

Rather than raising a champion, such behaviors can lead to performance anxiety and a failure to live up to their potential. Even worse, your relationship with your child-athlete can become tense or angry.


Keep the following suggestions in mind to raise a happy and successful child:

1. Youth sport is for the kids: It's common for parents to invest in their child’s performance. You make great sacrifices of your time, and money because you love them. Strong emotions in response to what happens to your child is natural (a process called identification). Over-identification can lead parents to focus on their own emotions and goals rather than their child’s. This can hurt and frustrate your child-athlete. Be aware of this risk and follow the suggestions below.

2. Fun and skill development should be the top priority at all levels of play.

3. Jens Omli in 2006 interviewed 73 athletes, ages 3-14. These kids said they wanted parents to watch with quiet attentiveness by:


  • a. Silently and attentively watching kids play
  • b. Cheering good plays
  • c. Then sitting quietly again

4. No yelling. Children can't hear the difference between positive, negative, and instructional yelling. They don’t like any of it and can find it embarrassing.

5. Kids report the top two negative parent behaviors are coaching from the sideline and yelling at the refs. Sideline coaching can confuse the child and undermine the coach. Kids feel bad for the refs when parents abuse them.

6. Parents have the unique ability to provide encouragement, support, and a break from sport. Kids need this balance that only you can provide.

7. Reinforce effort and skills, not winning. Children will learn that your “love” (e.g., positive words, hugs, treats) are dependent on the outcome of which they have no control. Reinforcing the process of effort and skill execution regardless of the outcome helps your child achieve more.

8. Focus on what you child is doing right. Reinforcing that will increase the likelihood that he or she will do it again.

9. Let the coach do his or her job. If you don’t feel the coach is qualified, you can certainly find another coach or league. Otherwise, let the coach perform without interfering. Both your child and the coach will appreciate it and perform better.

Excellence in Sport, School, and Life

Excellence can be achieved in any area of life. Developing these performance excellence skills are not just for sport. After all, chances are that your child will not be a professional athlete. Even the chances of playing at a NCAA institution are slim.

Look at these statistics (NCAA, 2007):

Men’s Basketball

  • 0.03% of high school senior boys will be drafted by a NBA team 
  • 3% of high school senior boys will play at the NCAA level

Women’s Basketball

  • 0.02% of high school senior girls will be drafted by a WNBA team
  • 3.3% of high school senior girls will play at the NCAA level


  • 0.08% of high school senior boys will be drafted by a NFL team 
  • 5.7% of high school senior boys will play at the NCAA level


  • 0.45% of high school senior boys will be drafted by a MLB team
  • About 6% of minor league players get called up to the big leagues [M. Strickland, personal communication, 12/5/08]
  • 6.1% of high school senior boys will play at the NCAA level

Men’s Ice Hockey

  • 0.32% of high school senior boys will be drafted by a NHL team
  • 11% of high school senior boys will play at the NCAA level 

Men’s Soccer

  • 0.07% of high school senior boys will be drafted by a MLS team
  • Only 5.5% of HS senior boys will play at the NCAA level

However, if your child is going to be successful in sport, he or she will need to be mentally tough. In fact, if your child wants to be successful in anything, he will need to be mentally tough. Skills such as determination, confidence, focus, and remaining in control under pressure will enhance your child’s ability to achieve excellence in all areas of her life, including: sport, school, work, and relationships.

At the Performance Excellence Center, Dr. Eddie identifies what areas your child wants to excel in and teach the skills necessary to achieve this. Parents can also be involved and learn parenting skills that will enhance their child’s development and achievement.

Contact Dr. Eddie at the Performance Excellence Center




1155 East Paris Avenue
Suite 200
Grand Rapids, MI 49503 | Map

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