In today’s world, youth athletes are facing unparalleled levels of pressure from themselves, their parents, and their coaches. As the competition continues to grow stronger, the demands of perfection placed upon athletes begin earlier. As a former collegiate athlete at Colgate University and current psychology graduate student, I can attest to the magnitude of influence coaches and parents have on a child’s athletic career.
My name is Holly Lueken and I willingly sacrificed my carefree child years when I promised myself that I would get that full scholarship all the kids dreamed of. I quickly learned that meant giving up my weekends, and after-school hours, and skipping out on school dances and birthday parties. Because my parents allowed me to be the driver in my athletic goals I gained the necessary skills and mindset required to reach that next level. However, many of my friends (equally as skilled and dedicated) who were not awarded that same level of autonomy and respect reached burnout after a few years. These athletes were burnt out for one of two reasons: 1. They were working tirelessly for a dream that wasn’t theirs, and 2. They could not handle the immense pressure heaped upon them by parents and coaches.
First and foremost, your child needs to be internally motivated for them to achieve excellence happily and healthily. Pushing your child to practice extra, do more, and be better will only strain your relationship if your athlete is not internally motivated. My parents never put extra practice pressure on me, and they didn’t need to, because I wanted it enough for everyone. Try your best to support, love, and motivate your child to be the best version of themselves rather than putting explicit demands on them.
If you do have an internally motivated young athlete you should do your best to save the coaching for the coaches. It is likely that your child senses their skills and abilities and internalizes that pressure to perform and succeed at a high level. As a parent, your job is to minimize the pressure your child experiences, NOT to add. It is your job to remind your child that they have a choice in their life and that they deserve to be happy in all of their activities. If you can’t take a step back you are likely harming your child’s athletic career as well as their self-confidence and sense of autonomy.