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A guide for parents
Sport Psychology Guidelines For Parents Of Young Athletes

Sport Psychology Guidelines For Parents Of Young Athletes
by Sherry Newsham, Ph.D. and Milledge Murphey, Ph.D.

A recent news media article depicted the dilemma of parents who are attempting to locate the best school for their 6'3" athletically gifted son who plans to enroll for the fall semester. These parents, however, were not looking for colleges; instead, they were looking for the best high schools offering college scholarship possibilities for their 13-year-old son. They were afraid that the local high school would not draw enough scouts to view their son, so they were conducting interviews with athletic directors of high schools with track records of college scholarship potential.

What parents do not realize is that this process may put undue pressure on a child to live up to parental expectations. Some parents have gone to great lengths, such as moving to another town just for the opportunity to better their child=s chances for attaining a college athletic scholarship. Statistically, the chances for college scholarships are slim. What happens when children don=t get the recognition their parents believe they deserve? They may develop feelings of inadequacy and tend to drop out of sport; in fact, by the age of sixteen, eighty percent of children will have dropped out of a sporting activity. Fortunately, most parents are not putting excessive tension on their young athletes. Children will have a greater likelihood of staying in sport and enjoying it more if they don=t perceive undue pressure. The following guidelines are suggested in order to help parents and coaches ensure that children experience positive feelings from engaging in sport and to help to create a physically active life that continues through adulthood.

  1. Focus on your children=s effort and performance rather than the outcome of a competition. Teach children that success means achieving their personal goals rather than winning a contest.
  2. Help your children to set realistic goals that are measurable and attainable. Goals that are too vague or difficult lead to a high dropout rate. Goals that are performance directed rather than outcome directed lead to greater likelihood of success. All goals must be numerically quantifiable.
  3. Make sure your children know that whether they win or lose, whether they play a lot or a little, you love them unconditionally. Give just as much praise for a loss as you do for a win.
  4. Show respect for your children=s coaching staff. If you=re not happy with the coaching style or manner, discuss your concerns with the coach. Don=t coach your children from the sidelines.
  5. Show support for your children=s teams by attending games and cheering for all team members. Don=t express criticism towards opponents or referees during competition.
  6. Accept any limitations in your children=s physical abilities. Studies suggest that children with less than average skills would rather play on a losing team than a winning one if it means that they can play more often.
  7. Make sure your children are having fun. Ask your children if they are enjoying their participation in sports and want to continue or try something else.
  8. Place your children in sports best suited to them rather than forcing your children into sports you prefer or that are most popular.
  9. Be careful not to relive your sport experiences exclusively through your children. Let them play for themselves, not for you.
  10. Keep sport in perspective. Remember: The purpose of sport for children is to create an opportunity for fun and growth. All the triumphs and heartaches that are inherent in sport for children can provide learning experiences and lessons that help pave the road to adulthood. These experiences also lead to better sport parenting.


Sherry Newsham, Ph.D., has been an educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience ranging from the elementary level through higher education. She is an adjunct faculty member of the San Diego University for Integrative Studies. Her award-winning research in the areas of children=s motivation for sport participation and performance enhancement has been presented nationally and internationally. Dr. Newsham has participated in LABMAN, a sports medicine research team, investigating psychological characteristics of ultra-endurance athletes. She received her Master=s Degree in Physical Education with an emphasis in Sport Psychology from San Diego State University and her Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology from the United States International University. Dr. Newsham can be contacted at or