Nov 08, 2021 • 4 min read
The desire to see young athletes do well is usually what motivates sports parents to get into a pushing groove. No mom or dad enjoys seeing a child sit too long on the bench or play below his or her potential in the game. Watching your child give a half-hearted effort is frustrating. Whether it’s in school, sports, or chores, parents are always looking for answers on how to help their kids “try harder.”
There is no magic pill for motivation, but the first step is to recognize that a lack of motivation is probably related to the fact that your child is either discouraged or is not enjoying the sport.
Once you recognize that a lack of trying is always related to something deeper, you can begin to get to the root of the problem and start pushing your child in positive ways.
You see, not all pushing is bad. In fact, I would say that positive pushing can be very beneficial for your child. The difference between positive pushing and the negative pushing that parents tend to resort to in frustration is huge.
Negative pushing uses tactics like comparison, bribery, shaming and nagging. Positive pushing, or constructive pushing, looks much different:
1. Ask the right question after practices or games. How did practice go? How did you feel about your game tonight? One or two questions show your interest, while too many can feel like you are pressuring your athlete.
2. Offer opportunities for your young athlete to work outside of practice. If your young athlete says no, drop it and bring it up at another time when he or she is ready to work on improving.
3. Be at as many games as you can. It communicates your support and may encourage young athletes to push themselves.
4. Offer praise for hard work. It communicates support without attaching your love to his or her performance.
5. Let your young athlete bask in and enjoy good games, points scored and games won. When hard work pays off, he or she will be motivated to push harder.
6. Don’t let your anxiety push your young athlete. That will motivate him or her to perform just to make you happy. It only teaches them how to appease you. Also, it distracts your young athlete from finding internal motivation.
7. Let your young athlete make his or her own choices. If it’s a poor choice, let them face natural consequences. This is probably one of the most powerful teachers of all. If your young athlete doesn’t get much playing time because he or she chooses to be lazy in practice, then so be it. But if your young athlete works hard and reaps the benefits, it motivates him or her to keep working hard.
8. Ask your young athlete the right questions. What do you really want? What is your goal in this sport? What makes you want to work harder? When he or she talks, listen well. Respect the answers, even if you don’t like them. Allowing your young athlete to have his or her own goals and desires builds confidence, which is a big motivator to do one’s best.
Whatever you do, don’t blame yourself for your child’s lack of motivation. His or her athletic performance does not define you. Your young athlete’s success does not make you a super-parent. His or her mistakes should not make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Instead, zoom out. See your child as their own person and strive to understand what he or she really wants and needs. This will help you see what truly motivates your young athlete and may require some parental experimentation. Remember this: Positive pushing is more of an art form, not an exact science.
Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called jbmthinks.com. Her new book, 11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents, is on Amazon.