How to Parent Your Athlete

What Can You Do To Help Your Athlete Hear You & Be More Successful

  1. Use “If Then” statements. The brain processes statements more effectively if we phrase it with “if, then”. It’s psychological & very powerful for getting what you want from someone else. Try these options: If you give me 5 more minutes, then I won’t be rushed & I won’t get upset. If you put the dishes away before I get home, then we won’t have an argument.

    We HEAR these types of statements. If you explain what this exercise will do for me, then I’ll be more motivated to do it on my own. If you start working on your mental game, then you’ll be stronger than your opponents. As a parent or coach - If you bend your elbow more, then this will happen. As an Athlete- If you show me how to correct my form, then I’ll be able to perform better. If you work on the strategies Ashley gives, then your mental skills will improve – instead of: Do what Ashley told you to do. – BIG difference in how the brain hears the statements!

  2. Don’t ask “why” questions. It’s tempting to say, “why did you swing at that, why did you choose that club, why did you take an extra breath”. However, your child probably doesn’t know why or they wouldn’t have done it & now they are going to internalize it & place more external pressure on themselves to please you. We often hear athletes don’t want to disappoint their parents even though they know they love them & support them. The best way to actually support them is to ask: “How did it go? What can I do to help you prepare for your next competition?”

  3. Try not to talk about the event/game/competition for at least 2 hours afterwards. Wait until emotion has dissipated or either one of the parties involved won’t hold onto the information. Get in the car, & if your athlete brings it up, then you may talk about it, but don’t badger them immediately. If you have a correction to make or comment about their behavior, wait 2 hours & then discuss what could be improved next time – they will be much more receptive.

  4. It doesn’t matter what you think about your advice, it matters what your child thinks about the advice. Sometimes our best intentions aren’t perceived as that. Try this activity with your athlete. Work with your athlete to determine where behaviors & habits do you both value. We get busy & we often don’t discuss values with our kids. Behavior examples: parents can comment on attitude, effort, reminders about nutrition, but not tactical or technical instruction. Be a parent, not another coach.

  5. Ask their permission to correct them. Can I offer a suggestion that I think will help your swing or your race? If they say no, honor that & come back to it later. Most of the time, they will be curious & ask you after the emotion has died down & want the feedback. This allows their brain to absorb what you’re wanting to correct rather than feeling attacked. They can take ownership in how the information is received.

  6. Give praise with criticism. Seems obvious but it’s not. Try to do a 5:1 ratio of praise to critiques. Research studies show this being the magic number that the brain hears & receives the feedback, rather than them thinking mom always nags me or coach is always calling me out. This doesn’t have to be each time you talk, but over a course of a practice if you’re the coach, or as a parent over the course of a week. We hold onto negatives much longer than positives & we hear negatives much louder than positives. You get better results with positive feedback. Simply try telling them what you want them to do rather than “don’t do…”

  7. Praise effort, not just outcome. Instead of only saying, “wow you dropped time” or “you were so fast”, try “you were fast because you’ve been doing those drills all week long”, or “I saw you picked up your stroke rate” or “your reaction time off the blocks improved” or “your smile & gracefulness really stood out in your routine”. You can do this in your home, it doesn’t just have to be in sports. Try letting your kids know you appreciate them picking up before being asked, thanks for being on time, I love that you…, you still need to work on… you’re getting better at… You get the idea. Try not to make everything about the result, the score, the podium, the time, the landing, but rather the improvement & growth so that they are encouraged to keep going.

  8. Think of what you share with your athlete. When you bring work home or financial issues to talk about in front of them – they share responsibility for that & they can’t put all their energy into school, softball, swimming, gymnastics, etc. I often hear athletes say I want to do this, but I know it’ll be too expensive so I don’t want to ask. They feel pressure to play for scouts, scholarship opportunity, impress coaches or you, & also solve your problems. We feel like if they know how much a piece of equipment or camp costs, then they will appreciate it more, however, they will also internalize this pressure. You can say: “this was expensive, I want to make sure you want to be here & you will put the time & effort into practicing” once, but you don’t need to bring it up every time you get in the car. Avoid discussing outcome – “this costs $450.00, you better do your best to get a hit”. On another note, if you need to address poor behavior, grades, so on, do it at home – not in the car on the way to game or practice, then those become the last thoughts they carry with them into the game or practice.

  9. Don’t talk about other players or coaches in front of your athlete, at least not negatively. What happens is your athlete sees their coach now through your eyes & they can no longer trust them or play the same. Stuff like – they don’t know what they’re doing, coach always has her in the line-up, she plays favorites, you’re better than her, you should move lanes, if I was the coach I would…etc. Your athlete now starts to react to plays/practice negatively & it’s terribly damaging. It creates toxic relationships. If you don’t like a coach, okay, but once you & your athlete don’t, they aren’t going to be successful. All of your athlete’s energy goes into “why is coach doing…” Then they have very little left to put into their performance. You can discuss his or her efforts or what would be best for him or her – people have to change teams all the time. We often find that a particular coach isn’t the right personality match or effective for your skill sets, that’s okay, but choose your conversation carefully. Allow your athlete to express his or her opinion first.

  10. Make sure your expectations are clear. When we’re communicating, we love to assume. Never assume. Don’t make assumptions that they knew what you were talking about, or what you wanted, or how it “should” be done. We all do things differently & that’s okay. If it’s important to you, you’ll remember, they are young, they forget, they need reminders sometimes but not every minute – allow them to be accountable. Just parent your athlete. They need parents, not more coaches. Even though you’re trying to be helpful, do not reiterate technical aspects or give strategies that are coaching related. Try to avoid making your expectations a source of pressure. You can want something for your athlete & communicate how you feel is the best way to achieve it based on your experience, but it’s still how you feel is best. Be open to hearing how they think it should be done. Give your athlete a voice & be a team in making decisions if you need to be involved.

  11. Point out what other athletes are doing successfully carefully. Discuss what your athlete is doing well & what they could work on. Avoid just talking about what they could work on. We often like to motivate our children by saying: “Sally is doing this over here & that’s how she is getting faster”. “John is doing this & he is stronger than you”. We think it will push our athlete to want to do the same & we often feel it’s a good visual comparison, however, the majority of the time, they hear: “I can’t do that” “I’ll never be good enough for my dad” “He wants me to be more like them” This is never our intention, but it is how they hear the phrase. Try to avoid spending a lot of conversation time on another athlete.

  12. Practice reframing, just like I teach athletes. Tell them what you want them to do – hit the ball hard, quick reaction time in your start, turn your feet over, straight legs, smile, etc. You can’t tell them not to… or avoid… or don’t… We tend to say things like “don’t mess up your turn like last time”, “now just relax so you don’t false start”, “the wind is tough for everyone, don’t worry about it”. Athletes often focus on what they don’t want to happen or the skills they are lacking. These are negative phrases & the brain can’t process them effectively. Did you know a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical & emotional stress? Choose your words wisely. We want them to hear what they are trying to accomplish & where they want to go.