Motivating your athlete in youth sports is not an exact science; it’s more like an art form.
It’s trial and error -- a learning process for parents as much as it is for kids because every child is different and every child responds differently to motivational tactics.
But before you start looking for ways to help your child get motivated in sports, consider this: Are you keeping the big picture in mind? If your objective is to help your child work hard so they can learn physical, emotional and mental skills that will stick with him or her for life, then avoid these short-term motivators:
Nagging. You may call it reminding, but when you are constantly riding your child to practice, work hard, and be aggressive, it will sound like Nag, Nag, Nag to your son or daughter. You may think you are motivating, and maybe in a way you are because your child will cooperate just to shut you up. But it is a short-term motivator.
Threats. You better start working on that shot, or you’re going to get benched! Or If you don’t start hitting, coach will put in a designated hitter for you. Let me just say this: I’m pretty sure your child already knows that if he or she doesn’t get the job done, game time will shrink. Your young athlete does not need you to remind him or her of the consequences of a consistent poor performance.
Bribery. I shamefully admit we tried this a time or two, in an effort to encourage my youngest to take shots in basketball. She had a sweet shot and everyone, including the coach, told her to shoot more. So we resorted to rewarding her for every shot she attempted. This tactic may work for little kids because they want the reward, but if a high schooler doesn’t have the motivation to do what they are supposed to do in the game, bribery is like putting a bandaid on a broken arm. It will not take care of the underlying problem. And, by the way, it did not work to motivate my daughter.
Comparison. If you mention another player on the team or a sibling because you want to point out something good that he or she is doing, you are subtly using comparison to motivate. Did you see how he takes the open shot? Notice how she attacks the ball? If your child feels you are pulling the comparison card, he or she will most likely shut down or back off.
Money. When you pour money into something, you most likely expect some kind of return. As sports parents, it’s easy to expect that your child give 100% because you are forking out so much money for him or her to play. It’s easy to “own” your child by holding this over his or her head. That never motivates; it only builds resentment. So if you are going to spend big bucks so your child can play sports, be sure you don’t use it as an excuse to pull his or her strings.
Motivators That Work
If you really want to motivate your athlete in sports, you will get long-term character and skill building results by believing in your child, keeping a balanced life between sports and other activities, praising effort, and offering opportunities for improvement.
The heart of the matter is that your child has to feel confident that he can succeed and know that hard work will result in that success. If he knows that, if he’s felt that, then chances are he will push himself when he needs to.