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Realistic Parenting for Nurturing Highly Motivated Athletes

“By the age of 13, over 70% of children stop playing competitive sports”, according to a shocking study done by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, a non-profit sports education and research organization based in Florida, USA. The question of how to motivate your child as an athlete is complex. On the one hand, you want what’s best for your child, so you may have a tendency to push them. On the other hand, you may want to take a step back and allow your child to naturally grow into a sports star while having fun. Whatever option you may choose, successfully motivating your child is a is a delicate balancing act.

Setting realistic expectations as a parent

Overwhelming research by Freud and B.F Skinner tells us that the parents have the greatest influence on the direction of their children’s lives. Consequently, the way parents interact with kids is probably the catalyst for success or failure in sports. If you’re a parent of a budding athlete, consider applying some of these principles:

1. It’s about the fun

Never drive your kid so hard that they forget about why they started playing sports in the first place. As soon as you see the enthusiasm fading, ask them why and use all available media (images, video, text etc.) to remind them why they first started playing. Expose them to documentaries / videos or autobiographies of their favourite sports stars. The journey of their sports heroes will innately inspire them.

2. The 10 000 hours principle

Coined by Malcolm Gladwell, 10 000 hours represents the amount of time for self-mastery at a particular skill. All famous artists and sports stars have made use of this principle. As a parent, have realistic expectations of the progress of your child based on how many hours they have put in at practice. If they are not progressing, perhaps introspect what you could be doing to assist them in achieving their training goals and hours.

3. Be realistic – Sports is hard

Only 0.03 percent of basketball players in high school get drafted to the NBA. This percentage ratio can probably be used for most sports, because sport is very competitive. Your expectations should be in line with what is achievable; recognise that reaching the top of a sport is not always possible.

4. Speak to other people

This may be your first time parenting a child at a high level of sports. Take time out from work and go have coffee with parents and coaches of children who have gone on to make a success in

sports. Ask them questions about how they did it and what was needed to succeed. Their answers can give you clarity to calibrate your expectations

5. Make use of blueprints

As a parent, take the time to research successful people in the field of your child’s sport, so you can get an understanding of what it takes to perform at the highest level. Read biographies and watch documentaries of these sports stars. You will learn from their trials and tribulations.

Motivating your child to be the best athlete

1) Compete with yourself

Didier Drogba signed his first contract at the age of 21, with a low tier French team. If he compared himself with Messi (who had three World Player of the Year awards), he might have given up and not played football at all. Encourage your child to only compete with themselves. Get them to set realistic goals on their wall and measure themselves bi-weekly against these.

2) Be there for your child

The psychological effect of seeing a parent on the sidelines during a sports game is unbelievable. To motivate your athlete, the best you can do is to be at your child’s game and applaud their efforts.

3) Failure is the catalyst for success

Famous author Kathryn Schulz surmises that we dangerously see failure as something that happens to others and not to ourselves. The catalyst for success is when this perception is challenged. As a parent, use failure as teaching points and make use of positive psychology (such as reflecting on specific points in the game – both good and bad, visualizing into the future) to set the course for success.

4) Invest in your athlete

As much as possible, try and invest in the best facilities and equipment for your child. You want to enable them in every way possible to achieve their maximum potential. Sometimes spending a little bit more can elevate your child to the next level or even jump a few levels.