It is not earth shaking news to say that kids are all different, especially when it comes to the area of natural, athletic talent. Some kids are naturally talented while others are not, and most are somewhere in between. Likewise, young athletes have different levels of self-motivation, varying from very motivated, to those that are hardly motivated.
Most parents would obviously prefer to have very talented and motivated kids, of course, but those type athletes are often few and far between. Often, parents get so frustrated over unmotivated kids that their displays of unhappiness, actually, lead to the end for their child in sports.
The good news is that many young athletes, who lack motivation and natural talent at a young age, gain it at a later time. Where does this sudden motivation and talent come from? It almost always comes about because athletic success is achieved. Athletic success is the best motivator there is. Having success often leads to motivation, which brings about the work ethic necessary to develop sport skills and athletic talent.
It can be a very disappointing time for parents when their kids stop playing sports and this day comes too soon for many youth athletes because of the negative parental and coaching tactics that many adults use. However, employing positive, self-esteem building words and advice can buy time to keep kids involved with sports, until that day comes when success and self-motivation kicks in, or until the day when both parents and kids realize it is time to move on to other activities. It is important to remember that rarely does success and subsequent motivation have a chance to come forth, if parents become negative with youth athletes.
Positive coaching words and advice parents can try:
1. Parents should explain that practice is necessary for kids to have a chance at success. The key to this explanation is the way parents say it to their kids. Blurting out, "You have to practice" immediately after a tough game is not the answer. Rather, "You were obviously upset over the way you played. You have a better chance of succeeding and avoiding those feelings if you dedicate more practice time into it. If you want me to practice with you or want me to find someone else that can help, I will be more than willing to," gets the point across to kids in a much less confrontational manner. It is never good to have young kids feel like they have to do everything on their own and the key is to let kids know that you (parents) are there to help in any way kids want. It is always best to give them options and not ultimatums.
2. Many kids work hard but still struggle with having any degree of success. Letting these players know how much you appreciate their effort and how much you believe in them is crucial. Saying things like, "I know you tried your best and that's all anyone can expect of you. There is a good chance the results will be different the next time," provides hope and reassurance for athletes.
3. How parents define success to their kids is important. Explaining to youth that success is simply giving their best during preparation and play is advice that can provide kids with self-esteem, even when the results of their effort are not good. Parents who say, "Prepare to the best of your ability and give it your all out there today, that is all anyone can ever expect," are developing players with a good sport perspective.
4. Saying, "I am proud of you" to all youth athletes are always good, positive coaching words to inspire kids.
Finally, I have never seen the alternative of pushing and nagging kids to work harder pay off as motivation in the long run.
"Playing major league baseball - cool; helping kids - priceless."
Jack Perconte helps kids and their parents get through the complicated world of youth sports. He shares his playing, coaching and parenting experiences in his books, The Making of a Hitter and Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport. Learn more at