Head in the Game
The psychology of youth sports
Success in sports is part physical ability, part mental toughness, and part parental support—but how much of each? Fairfield Living asked Dr. Will Mayer of Willpower Therapy to weigh in on sports psychology for performance enhancement. Dr. Will, as he’s known, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in child, adolescent, and family therapy as well as sports psychology—working with teams, coaches, and individuals to help improve athletic performance.
Are kids under more pressure these days? I am not sure kids are any harder on themselves than in the past. What’s changed is that most sports are now played in multiple seasons and there is a greater emphasis on specializing at an early age. Specializing too early and leagues with three practices a week at age eight can lead to burnout.
How should we show encouragement? Children should be encouraged to participate in youth sports no matter what their athletic ability. I am also generally in favor of the parent rule that if a child signs up for an activity, then he/she must complete that season before deciding whether to continue. What can a parent do when a child struggles?
Model good sportsmanship by being calm and dignified at sporting events. Show interest by encouraging your child to discuss his or her experience and truly listening. Offer praise for effort, cooperation, and sportsmanship—winning does not define success. Make peace with your own sports experience and do not relive it through your child.
Encourage positive, realistic, and adaptive thinking—don’t dwell on the negative. Wait until highschool before specialization. Avoid overcoaching at home. Above all, keep sports in perspective: It’s about having fun. The unconditional love, acceptance, and support of a sporting parent is the most important contributing factor in the development of young athletes in all sports.
411 Pequot Ave., Southport, 203-939-1535; willpowertherapy.com.