A comment I receive regularly from parents is that “I do not know what to say to encourage my child without putting pressure on them.” This is a pain point because as a parent you want what is best for your child. You want them to feel good about themselves and enjoy their life, but also experience success and be rewarded for all their hard work. It is a tough balance trying to encourage them in sports while worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing, afraid of negatively affecting the relationship.
There are a few common methods of encouragement parents attempt which may sound familiar… #1) bribery…“I will give you $20 if you get a hit or home run” or “If you win we will take you to get pizza”. #2) well-intentioned threats … “If you don’t figure this out, you can’t keep playing.” #3) Avoidance… if things become really tense you may decide “I am just not going to talk to them about their sport anymore.”
Here is the truth: no matter how much pushback you get, they WANT and NEED your support. Today I want to share with you the secret to encouraging your child in their sport without fear. This 1 thing will help you navigate every conversation with your child so that you can confidently encourage and support them no matter what challenge they are experiencing. It can also help you get to know your child on a deeper level and allow them to truly feel seen and heard, which is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
The Secret : Be Curious ...
Navigate conversations with your child through a lens of curiosity
One of the easiest ways to support your child without worrying about adding pressure or upsetting them is to have conversations from a lens of curiosity. This is an area where you can have a dramatic influence on your child. Set a personal goal for yourself to be curious and filter what you say with that intention. Ask open-ended questions and genuinely be interested in what your child has to say. Try to understand where they are coming from and do not be afraid to ask follow-up questions until you see their perspective. When you would typically offer your opinion or feedback instead ask an open-ended question…
Here are some examples...
- How are you feeling about tryouts this weekend?
- What do you think they could have meant by that comment?
- Why do you think your coach could have made that decision?
- Why do you say that you are afraid?
- What are you nervous about? Why?
- How are you feeling about this upcoming season? What do you think makes you feel that way? Why do you think that?
- Why do you enjoy playing your sport?
- Can you please tell me more about that?
This simple shift has huge benefits
#1 Helps You Check Your Expectations
This helps you put aside your expectations and feelings so you do not add to the pressure they may already be feeling. If your child is already upset because they feel like they let their team down because of an error and you immediately start talking to them about what the coach should have done or the terrible calls the umpire made or what they should have done in a particular situation, you are teaching them to focus on perfection and things they cannot control which is not helpful. By allowing room for them to open up and share you are learning how their amazing mind words. You will have opportunities to help them see certain patterns and they will be open because they feel seen and heard.
#2 Helps Them Increase Awareness of Their Thoughts and Feelings
This helps them to understand how they think and feel which is a huge life skill! They receive so much feedback constantly from teachers, parents, coaches, parents of friends, etc. that they may not spend a lot of time reflecting. If they are not aware of their thinking patterns it is difficult to change behaviors. By asking them questions, you are helping them to discover how they feel about the situations they are in. They can process the details in an authentic way instead of defaulting to saying the thing they believe you want them to say. When they are more aware of their thoughts and feelings they will be able to have more control over their emotions and behaviors. This will result in less frustration and more ownership which bring me to the next benefit…
#3 Helps Them Take Ownership and Responsibility for Themselves
If you have ever struggled with wanting your child to be more motivated and self-driven then get ready! When you ask questions before you give feedback, this helps your child begin to take ownership and responsibility for themselves. This is one of the hardest things to do, but the more you want it for your child, the less they need to want it for themselves. By opening up an honest dialogue, you are allowing them to develop their own ‘why’ and feel aligned in their purpose instead of trying to meet your expectations. If you want your child to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments, be more motivated, and to be excited about their sport this is the secret!
Here Is An Easy 1st Step...
When they get in the car after practice or a competition, ask “what are 2 things you did well today?” or “What are you proud of yourself for today?” or “What is the best thing that happened to you today”. Usually what happens is you ask “How was practice?” Then they may start crying, cross their arms angrily, or provide a snippy response. One reason this happens is because so many athletes have really high expectations for themselves and they do not want to disappoint others. If they already feel like they did not do a good enough job, they are put in a position of telling you about it and letting you down as well (even if you never did anything to put pressure on them). They are your child and want you to be proud.
This also helps them build confidence because they are focusing on the good things instead of the bad. They will notice the effort they are putting in instead of the ways they are not playing perfectly. This is ESPECIALLY important if your child is dealing with a mental block, slump, setback, or challenge.
This also takes their focus away from all of the things they cannot control or that they fear may happen. When they feel like they are doing good things they no longer allow their belief in themselves to be dictated by a single mistake, setback, or challenge. They feel good about themselves and can excited to keep pushing forward. This is how you build proactive confidence that does not change from day to day.
What if it is possible for you to enjoy having conversations with your child about their sport? It is! These tips work because my clients use them with their children and are amazed at the difference it makes. If there is a lot of tension when trying to encourage your child in sports, an honest conversation could help. By being open and honest with them through a lens of curiosity, you are modeling courage and growth at the cost of comfort and perfection.
P.S. if this is uncomfortable, have the conversation while you and your child lay down. They may be more likely to be honest because they cannot read your expressions. You’ve got this!
If your child is dealing with anxiety and fears in their sport or could use a confidence boost, I want to help! Whether they are getting ready for tryouts, in the middle of competition season, or ramping up for a new season it is a great time to improve their mental game.
As a Mental Performance Coach, I help athletes turn anxiety and fears into confidence and joy. Through 1-on-1 private coaching, learning content, and application guides I teach athletes how to master their mindset so they can achieve their biggest goals.
If you want to learn more and see if Mental Coaching is right for your child, I invite you to schedule a 30-minute no-cost Performance Check Session. The session includes an opportunity for you, the parent, to receive support with your biggest challenges.
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