#48: Why Parents Are the Biggest Problem In Sports with Performance Coach Collin Henderson

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As a parent, how do you measure your child’s worth? Is it through how many wins they get? Through how many points they scored in their games? Or simply by how much you love them? 

A very little known fact about young athletes is that they want to make you feel proud of their achievements. They want to work hard and earn your appreciation and approval. It’s a good thing, because this becomes a driving force for them to work hard and you can cheer them on. 

However, there’s a huge downside to this. Making you feel proud as their main source of motivation and drive creates this situation where they’ll look to you in everything they do. When they have games, they are sort of aware of your presence and can be self-conscious. So you have to be very careful on how you respond to their success and their failures. Especially on their failures. 

For some, it builds anxiety in them. They’ll be more and more afraid to make mistakes or do anything that warrants your disapproval. It’s a standard they’ve set for themselves. 

From Collin: 

Be careful in how you condition your kids

The concept of conditioning comes from what is called Pavlov’s dog, when a scientist did an experiment where they would jingle a bell for the dog and would have a steak waiting for him. So when it happens frequently, the dog associates the ringing of the bell to a meal and steak. So whenever a bell rings, it would mean a meal to the dog regardless if there really was a steak waiting. 

And that relates to your kids. They start to be conditioned as they associate shame, fear, embarrassment, with sports. Because there’s this reaction, that if they don’t act a certain way, there’s a response from the person that they love the most, the person that they want to please the most, which is you… their parents. 

So that results in kids not wanting to have their parents on their games. Because they lose their focus trying to be perfect and if they make a slight mistake, they would think, “oh no, I messed up. I’m not good. This is terrible!” 

Why is that?

Well, their conditioning is associating shame, embarrassment, worth tied to playing a game. And that messes up their mental health and reduces their self worth to how well they can play sports. 

They would develop anxiety and could lead to not wanting you to attend their games anymore. 

As a parent, you must assess yourself. Am I creating anxiety and fear in my kids? Assess yourself by focusing on how you speak to them, what you give praise to or what you tell them not to do.

That’s not creating a safe place to grow and learn.

How to avoid conditioning your kids this way

We coach our athletes on all these things about the fundamentals and effort in their sport. And we’re focusing more on `how to do a certain skill’. We have a ton of coaching on the physical side, and not on the mental side. Additionally, we coach our kids to be the perfect athlete, to be able to do this sport well. 

But parents have zero coaching. And yet, they want their children to be coachable and flexible to learning and mastering the sport. But what about parents? There’s a lot that your kids are going through and a lot of that is partially because of you. And if you want your child to be a top performer and get a scholarship, they need intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic. If it’s extrinsic coming from you, you can’t sustain that.

For parents, when a kid makes a mistake, you have 10 seconds to either make your kid feel better or make yourself feel better by the language that you use and how you address that.

There’s a podcast that featured Kobe Bryant where he was interviewed. And in that interview, he talked about an interaction with his dad. So his dad was a previous NBA player and he wanted to impress his dad by scoring buckets. 

So his dad put his arm around him and said to him, “Kobe, if you score zero or 60 points, I don’t care at all. I love you for who you are. Not for what you do,” and in that instant, he wasn’t afraid of failure. He did what he wanted to do and came out on top. Because he wasn’t afraid to fail because the person he admired the most loved him for him not from how many points he scored.

So let’s take this moment to talk about how you as a parent can help your child overcome their anxiety and fear of failure. 

It all starts with you. 

**Note: This isn’t meant to call you out as a parent or tell you what to do in raising your child. It’s more of an eye opener, something that you as a parent should know about your child. Because at some point in your life, you’ve been a daughter as well and you’ve looked up to your parents, seeking their approval in what you do. So, this is a way of reaching out to your old self. What would you have done if you were your parents? The right thing, of course.  

How can you tell your athlete is afraid of disappointing you? 

These are some early signs: 

  • They start hiding things from you (i.e. game schedules, practices) 
  • They don’t tell you about a certain game or hope that you wouldn’t go to their games
  • They start to become rigid around you and conscious during their games (when you’re present)

What can you do? 

  • Tell them, no matter the result, you’ll be proud of them.
  • Avoid encouraging their competitiveness, that’s how it starts.
  • Maintain a positive reaction whenever they slip up or make a mistake. (It’s the little things that can set off their anxiety) 

Children, especially teenagers, are very sensitive to how the world views them. They’re bound to be conscious of the reactions of other people around them. And especially more so to people that’s important to them. 

How can you build their confidence? 

1) Be there for them. 

In failure or in success, you have to show up for them. Don’t just show up when they’re winning, show up even when they’re down in the dumps. Let them know that whatever happens, you’ll be there for them. That will boost their confidence and allow them to have a strong foundation to lean on; you. 

2) Embrace the failures. 

You don’t just show up when they’re in their flop era, you have to let them know that it’s ok to fail sometimes. That it doesn’t matter if they made a mistake or that it didn’t go as they planned or expected. It helps break their conditioning that they’re worth whatever score or win they receive. It helps boost their confidence when they know that you’ll still love them regardless of imperfections. 

3) Let them know you have their full support regardless of what they want.

Sports doesn’t have to be the thing that defines your athlete. Your daughter is a teenager and a student. Outside of sport, they have a life, they have friends, they have other hobbies. You shouldn’t reduce them to only their sport. Love them unconditionally and let them know you support them whether they want to continue their sport or if they want to retire and pursue something else. 

4) It’s not about you, it’s about them. 

Your child shouldn’t be the goal of your happiness. If you didn’t get to be an athlete so you want your child to be an athlete to fulfill your youth’s desire, then you’re doing something wrong. 

And that’s it! Your athlete shouldn’t be afraid of you, instead, they should look up to you as a role model and a healthy motivation that will support them in their journey! 


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