Addressing The Toxic Culture Of Sports And How To Navigate It As A Sports Mom With Sports Psychologist Hillary

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Hey there, sports moms and enthusiasts! Today, we’ve got something special for you – in this episode, we dive into sports culture and all the challenges that come with it. Joining us is clinical sports psychologist and mom of four girl athletes, Hillary Cauthen, a passionate advocate for embracing personal growth, enhancing performance, and nurturing the love for athletics and professional pursuits.

In this episode, Hillary shares her insights from her vast experience in the field of sports psychology. As a co-founder of Texas Optimal Performance and Psychological Services, she has worked with elite adolescent athletes, collegiate athletes, executive coaches, and various high-performance domains. But, what truly sets Hillary apart is her dedication to understanding and addressing the toxic aspects of sports culture and how they can impact athletes and their families.

Join us as we delve into the depths of sports culture and its occasional toxicity, something many parents and athletes can relate to. Hillary candidly discusses the challenges faced by coaches, teammates, and athletes, shedding light on behaviors that might be deemed unacceptable in other settings. We also discuss the influence of different parent types on young athletes. Hillary enlightens us on the 6 sport parent types and offers advice on how we can become the most supportive parents for our children’s athletic journey. Furthermore, we delve into some common questions surrounding visualization, breathwork, and other mental game strategies that can enhance an athlete’s performance.

If you’re a sports mom or an enthusiast who wants to empower your young athlete to thrive in a positive sports environment, this episode is for you! Keep reading to uncover the wisdom shared by Sports Psychologist Hillary Cauthen in our captivating conversation.

The Toxic Culture in Sports

When asked about the toxic culture in sports, Hillary shared some eye-opening insights:

Unspoken Truths and Experiences.

Hillary emphasized that back in 2018, she felt compelled to speak out about the unspoken truths and experiences that exist within sports culture. As a former athlete herself and through her work with clients, she witnessed behaviors that would never be accepted in other areas of life. The harsh tones, name-calling, and neglect were all prevalent, impacting the emotional well-being of athletes.

Coaching Dynamics.

In many cases, coaches lack formal education and certification in certain sports. While they might mean well, the way they interact with athletes can be harmful. Yelling, blaming, name-calling, shaming, and neglecting athletes take a toll on their self-worth and motivation.

Impact on Athletes.

Athletes often look up to their coaches as parental figures, wanting to make them proud and seeking their approval. When coaches dismiss, belittle, or fail to communicate effectively with athletes, it affects their emotional well-being.

The Parent’s Role.

Parents play a crucial role in supporting and advocating for their young athletes. Hillary raised the concern of witnessing coaches yelling and using negative words towards athletes, and even worse, sometimes toward their own children. She urged parents to be mindful of the impact this has on young minds and to prioritize a healthy and nurturing sports environment.

Empowering Parents.

Hillary’s mission is to educate parents and help them ask the right questions about coach qualifications. By empowering parents with knowledge, they can actively foster positive environments for their young athletes and ensure they are treated with respect and encouragement.

In her upcoming book, “Hello Trauma, Our Invisible Teammate,” Hillary delves deeper into individual experiences of trauma in sports and how organizations, like sports teams, may unconsciously reinforce it. She reminds us that acknowledging and addressing trauma is crucial for athletes to thrive both on and off the field.

Best Practices for Parents to Help Their Kids in Sports

Navigating your child’s sports journey can be both exciting and challenging. As parents, we want the best for our kids, but it’s important to approach it with a thoughtful and supportive mindset. Here are some best practices recommended by sports psychologist Hillary Cauthen to help you guide your young athletes:

Identify your purpose.

Start by asking yourself: “Why do I want my child to participate in sports? What are my hopes and expectations for their sports experience?” Make sure you and your partner are aligned with the goals and values you want to instill in your child through sports.

Have a family discussion.

Sit down with your child and have an open family discussion about sports. Listen to their interests and motivations, even if they’re very young. Remember that each child may have different reasons for wanting to play sports.

Be prepared for challenges.

Anticipate potential challenges that might happen during your child’s sports journey. Discuss scenarios such as what to do if your child doesn’t enjoy the sport or if they encounter emotional struggles. Consider family values and how they might influence your decisions.

Avoid projecting your preferences.

It’s natural for parents to have their own sports preferences based on their experiences, but try not to project them onto your child. Let your child explore different sports and find what they truly enjoy.

Recreation vs. Skill Level.

Make sure to consider your child’s age and skill level when deciding on the level of their sports involvement. Consider recreational leagues for younger kids and progress to more advanced skill levels as they grow and develop.

Remember, the sports journey is about your child’s growth and enjoyment. Encourage their passion, nurture their self-motivation, and create a positive and supportive environment for them to thrive in sports. As parents, we play a crucial role in empowering our young athletes and helping them develop not only as players but also as well-rounded individuals.

The 6 Sport Parent Types

As parents, we play a significant role in our children’s sports journey, but have you ever wondered what kind of sports parent you are? Sports psychologist Hillary Cauthen breaks down the six common sport parent types, and we can all find ourselves in one or more of these types at different points.

Let’s take a closer look at each one:

The Vicarious Parent.

If you’ve been a collegiate athlete or have a strong sports background, you might relate to this type. The vicarious parent lives through their child’s sports experience, projecting their own desires and ambitions onto them. While it’s natural to share your love for the sport, it’s important to remember that your child has their own journey to explore.

The Investment Parent.

The investment parent is someone who’s focused on ensuring their child’s success in sports. They go the extra mile to provide the best private coaching, equipment, and opportunities in the hope of getting a return on their investment through college scholarships or professional careers. While support is valuable, it’s essential not to put too much pressure on the child to achieve specific outcomes.

The ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ Parent.

Sometimes, parents feel the need to keep up with other families and enroll their children in sports just because everyone else is doing it. Please remember that it’s important to make decisions based on your child’s interests and passion rather than peer pressure.

The Social Parent.

Social parents are those who attend sports events not only to support their child, but also for their own social well-being. While it’s great to connect with other parents and form a community, be mindful of not overshadowing your child’s experience with your own social needs.

The Independent Parent.

The independent parent is the last type in the list, and it can be challenging to name this one. This parent might rely on sports as a ‘babysitter’ – you might recognize this parent as someone who drops off their kid for practice and isn’t actively involved in their sports journey. While it’s understandable that busy work schedules and other commitments can limit parent involvement, it’s essential to strike a balance. When parents aren’t present as much, children might feel a sense of absence in their sports activities. Children may yearn for their parents’ support and encouragement, so staying connected and engaged, even in small ways, can have a significant impact on their sports experience.

The Supportive Parent (Ideal Type).

Supportive parents are those who are always there for their child, showing love and encouragement. It’s like being their number one fan! Cheering them on during games, practices, and any other activities they’re involved in creates a positive and motivating atmosphere. The supportive parent is the ideal goal for all of us.

Remember, it’s normal to exhibit characteristics of different parent types at different times. The key is to strive to be a supportive parent – someone who’s present for your child, respects their choices, and nurtures their passion for sports. Let’s create a positive sports environment for our young athletes, where they can thrive and enjoy their sports journey to the fullest.

Being a Supportive Parent in Challenging Situations

As a parent, it’s essential to be a supportive presence in your child’s sports journey, especially when they’re facing challenging situations. If your child expresses frustration about not getting playing time or facing conflicts with their coach, here are some tips on how to navigate these situations:

Assess the Situation.

First, make sure that you have an accurate understanding of the situation. Is your child genuinely upset about not playing, or are you witnessing their disappointment? Communicate with your child to better understand their feelings and perspective.

Encourage Communication.

Teach your child to use their voice and to speak up about their concerns. Practice having conversations with them and ask if they’d like your support during the discussion with the coach.

Support Their Initiatives.

Let your child take the lead in the conversation with the coach. Be there for emotional support, but let them express their interests and commitment to the sport. You can offer to assist by emailing the coach, but make sure that your child is aware of the content of the message and is involved in the process.

Know the Level of Competition.

Understand the level of play that your child is involved in. Typically, recreational leagues ensure equal playing time for all, while higher competition levels may prioritize talent and performance. Discuss with your child the expectations of their specific league and the factors affecting playing time.

Find Alternative Measures of Success.

Teach your child that there’s more to success than just their playing time. Encourage them to focus on being a great teammate, giving their best effort in practices, and improving their skills. Emphasize their growth and progress rather than solely relying on playing time as a measure of success.

Set Realistic Expectations.

If your child is in a more advanced league with selective playing time, have an honest and open conversation with them about the realities of the competition. Encourage them to work hard and improve while understanding that playing time might not always be guaranteed.

As a supportive parent, your role is to be there for your child, guide them through challenging situations, and help them find fulfillment and joy in their sports journey, regardless of playing time. By fostering open communication, encouraging their passion for the sport, and setting realistic expectations, you can create a positive and empowering experience for your young athlete.

How Do You Know When You Need to Remove A Child from A Situation?

As a parent, knowing when it’s time to remove your child from a particular sports situation or team can be challenging. Here are some signs and considerations to help you make that decision:

Notice Behavioral Changes.

Pay attention to your child’s behavior, emotions, and attitudes before, during, and after practices or games. If you notice a significant and consistent change in their behavior, such as increased anxiety, stress, or sadness related to the sport, it may be a red flag that something needs to be addressed.

Observe Interactions.

Watch how your child interacts with their coaches and teammates. If there are signs of strained relationships, conflicts, or negative dynamics that seem to impact their well-being, it’s important to address these issues.

Impact on Daily Life.

If the sport’s stress or pressure is affecting your child’s sleep, eating habits, school performance, or social life, it’s a clear sign that the situation is taking a toll on their overall well-being.

Consider External Factors.

Be mindful of external factors, such as academic pressures, social challenges, or identity formation, that may be compounded by the demands of sports. These factors can play a role in your child’s overall stress level.

Have Honest Conversations.

Engage in open and honest conversations with your child about their feelings and experiences in the sport. Understand their perspective and listen to their concerns without judgment.

Reevaluate Priorities.

Remember that not every child has to pursue high-level competitive sports. It’s essential to reassess priorities and consider other ways your child can stay physically active and mentally engaged, even if it means exploring different sports or activities.

Explore Alternative Options.

If the current situation isn’t working, be open to exploring other sports or non-competitive activities that may align better with your child’s interests and needs.

Encourage Independence.

Empower your child to make decisions about their sports journey. Discuss the options and let them be part of the decision-making process, allowing them to take ownership of their choices.

Strategies for Athletes to Help Build Their Confidence in Their Mental Strength

When it comes to helping athletes build their mental strength and confidence, Hillary uses the following strategies in her coaching approach:

Feel Your Feelings.

Encourage athletes to develop emotional awareness and regulation by reflecting on their emotions before and after practices or games. This practice of self-awareness helps them understand how certain feelings impact their performance and how to get into their best emotional state.

Intentional Breathing.

To reduce stress and enhance focus, teach athletes the power of intentional breathing. Hillary recommends a simple breathing technique called “triple threat” – inhale for three seconds, hold for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. Just five minutes of intentional breathing each day can lead to significant improvements in neural pathways and cognitive processing.


Utilize visualization techniques to enhance skill development and learning. Athletes can imagine themselves successfully performing their sport or skill, allowing their body to engage in neuromuscular movements as if they were physically practicing. Visualization is especially beneficial for injured athletes or those returning to play.

They can also use non-sport-related visualization exercises, like imagining eating their favorite food. This helps athletes tap into their natural ability to imagine and then transition to more sports-specific visualizations. Also, encourage athletes to visualize successful outcomes, always ending on a positive note. If they encounter negative scenarios, have them envision how they would respond and overcome the challenges to regain confidence.

Combine Journaling and Reflection.

Integrate journaling into pre-performance and post-performance routines. Before practice or competition, have athletes reflect on their feelings and set intentions for the session. Afterward, they can assess their performance, identify areas for improvement, and plan for the next session.

How Can I Make Her Be More Aggressive?

It’s great that you’re looking for ways to help her be more aggressive, louder, and step up as a leader. It’s a common desire for parents and coaches to see their kids perform at their best, but it’s important to approach this in a thoughtful way.

Let’s start by reevaluating the term “aggressive.” Sometimes we use this word without considering how it might be perceived by young athletes. For instance, when we tell a five-year-old to be aggressive, they might not fully understand what it means, and they may even associate it with negative behaviors like punching or getting angry. Instead, let’s break it down and focus on specific behaviors and skills we want to see her demonstrate on the field.

Being a leader doesn’t always mean being the loudest or most vocal person – leadership can also be displayed through actions and taking initiative. For example, showing up early, doing schoolwork diligently, and working hard are all signs of leadership. We should appreciate and encourage these qualities in her, even if she isn’t the type to be outspoken.

When trying to help her grow, it’s essential to see things from her perspective. Understand what she sees and feels on the field. Everyone has unique strengths and different ways of approaching the game. For instance, some players might not go for aggressive tackles because they have exceptional spatial awareness and prefer to play strategically. It’s okay to show her examples and provide guidance, but remember that every athlete is an individual. Embrace her strengths and let her shine in her own way. Sometimes, it’s about accepting and supporting her for who she is and allowing her to build on her natural abilities.

The Bottom Line

This episode with Sports Psychologist Hillary Cauthen has truly been an eye-opening and informative journey into the world of sports culture and all the challenges that come with it. We’ve explored the toxic aspects of sports culture and how they can impact athletes and families, as well as the vital role parents play in creating a positive sports environment. Moreover, Hillary’s insights on the 6 sport parent types have shed light on how we can better support our young athletes. We’ve also learned valuable strategies to help athletes build mental strength and confidence.

Remember, it’s essential to understand and nurture each child’s unique strengths and perspectives as they embark on their sports journey. Let’s strive to be supportive parents and create a positive environment where our young athletes can thrive and enjoy their sports experience to the fullest!

Episode Highlights:

[02:01] Introduction to Hillary. Introducing Hillary, co-founder of Texas Optimal Performance and Psychological Services.

[04:38] The toxic culture in sports.

[10:00] Best practices for parents to help their kids in sport.

[13:32] What role does fun and enjoyment play in sport?

[14:56] The six sport parent types.

[19:57] How do you become a supportive parent?

[23:36] How do you know when you need to remove a child from a situation?

[26:37] Go-to strategies that Hillary uses for the athletes she works with to help them build their confidence in their mental strength.

[34:57] The choice is yours, no matter what.


Helpful Links:

  • Come hang out with Hillary on social @drcmindset and learn more about working with her!

Thanks for joining us on our mission to raise up a generation of confident young women. The BEST way to help us spread the word and get this information into the hands of millions of parents, coaches, and female athletes is by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you – we appreciate you!

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