Today, many young athletes are interested in exploring sports as a source of exercise, extra-curricular activity, or future career opportunities. There are an array of physical and mental developmental milestones that are necessary for young athletes to accomplish and participate in sports successfully. It is essential that parents are aware of the potential negative effects participating in sports could have on their young athlete.
According to Psychologist Jon Hellstedt, there are 3 phases to successful development of the young athlete: 1. Exploration 2. Commitment 3. Proficiency. There are problem areas in each of these phases that the parent must be aware of. Following specific guidelines for your young athlete can increase their successful development.
Problem Areas for the Young Athlete:
(These problems may develop over time in this order)
- Competition: It’s important to let your child have fun while playing their sport and learn important social competencies such as teamwork and skill building. Children are not emotionally and cognitively ready to compete at a very early age (4-12 yrs) which may hinder their skill development.
- Coaching: Finding a good coach is essential to your young athlete’s development and skill ability. Bad coaching is common and may hinder your child’s development.
- Conflict: This may happen between parents and coaches who may have differing expectations and goals for the young athlete.
- Burnout: The young athlete may experience this if he/she begins to feel controlled to play for extrinsic reasons (please parents, scholarships, popularity at school, etc).
- Under-involved parents: This makes it difficult for the young athlete to commit to a sport or team without burdening the coach. It also puts children at risk for abuse.
Guidelines for Parenting the Young Athlete:
- Introduce your child to a variety of sports. This will allow your child to explore and find the activities they enjoy and are talented in.
- Nourish your young athlete’s dreams. To do this you must communicate with your child. Do not promote your own unachieved dreams and desires onto your young athlete.
- Find the right sports program. It’s important to make sure you get your child involved in one that focuses on fun and skill development.
- Provide emotional support. Be there for your child as he/she goes through the disappointments and demands that being an athlete brings. Listen to and respect your child’s opinion and don’t push them in an unwanted direction.
- Reinforce the commitment. Teach your child the importance of commitment, perseverance, and delayed gratification.
- Build relationships with coaches. Do this by communicating regularly about your young athlete’s progress, expectations, and goals.
Porsha Williams, LAMFT