As parents, we are always trying to do the right thing for our kids. We do our best to live in a town with good schools, make sure they study, get their homework done, help them maximize their youth sports experience and hopefully send them off to a good college.
For a child to reach their athletic potential there has to be a certain level of intrinsic motivation that comes from within. Young athletes are motivated in different ways. Some want to simply be a part of the team and have fun with their friends. Others play because they are told to by their parents, while others play for the true love of the game.
No matter your athlete’s motivation, you should be aware of it and do your best to understand and manage it. The goal for youth sports should be to help build our athletes’ resilience and develop intrinsic motivation. One of the most important and foundational components of intrinsic motivation is the power of “autonomy.” Allow your child to play the sport they wish under their terms. I understand very well that some kids need to be pushed, and without a parent on top of them they may wind up on the couch playing video games every day. It is ok for the parent to push their athlete but there has to be limits. There has to come a day when the athlete has an epiphany and has the desire to play, as well as practice completely on their own.
At some point as parents, we need to back off and let our kids become more independent about their sports. I have seen some very talented kids quit sports because of burnout. Many kids simply over-compete. They play way too many games. Basketball and Baseball are the biggest culprits. Getting ready for a competition, at any level, takes lots of emotional energy. Sometimes kids run out of this energy. Don’t get me wrong, if the athlete truly wants to play a sport and looks forward to all the games and competitions, then for sure, encourage and support them 100%. However, “they” have to want it.
Success and failure are two of the most powerful motivators for us all. It depends on what kind of personality we have. Most people are more motivated by success, but too much success can set up false expectations. Failure builds resiliency if managed correctly. It is ok for our athletes to fail, get cut from a team, or not make the starting lineup. In some ways, this could be the spark your athlete needs. Michael Jordan was cut from his High School Varsity Basketball team during his sophomore year. This was the spark that ignited Michael Jordan to become the greatest basketball player of all-time. Let your child fail and then support how he or she will overcome that failure and get better from it. This is the evolution of mastery. Help your child find the best strategies to get faster and stronger, and improve their sports skills. Get them engaged and excited about the improvement and mastery process. I believe that greater competence in any skill, builds greater confidence.
To summarize on how to motivate your child, have them find their purpose of what they like most about their sport. Support them in every way you can, by not micromanaging and at times, let them fail. Focus on how to overcome failures and improve. Youth sports are a great metaphor for life. Manage it correctly and your child will not just make the starting team, but will go on and live a happy and fulfilling life.