Are you pumping your kids up, or fuelling their doubts?

Are you pumping your kids up, or fuelling their doubts?-2

‘Your skills are improving, so in this game make sure you do a ‘step over’ to get around your opponent’.

This is a phrase many of us have said to our soccer kids over the years. I know I have said it to all three of my girls.

Whilst my intention was to give them a pump up, I may have been fuelling their doubts.

An instruction such as ‘make sure you do a step over’, may be designed to help them play well; there is a chance all the kid may hear is ‘oh no, now playing well means I have to do tricky stuff too’.

As the weight of expectation goes up, the confidence levels can come down, especially when the expectation involves mastering actions that may leave them looking silly if they fail.

Sports psychologists tell us that athletes who expect too much of themselves often have trouble dealing with ‘minor errors’. This is a problem as ‘minor errors’ are a natural part of every sport.


The scenario in the players mind looks like this:

confidence scenarioA better way to attack it is to play the ‘long game’.

  1. Give them plenty of opportunity to practice and take note of when they improve.
  2. During the week plant the seed that they should try it in the game, never just before they take the field.
  3. Give them permission to stuff it up. Expect the 3 pointer to be an ‘air ball’, or the step over to go completely awry.
  4. Reward the attempt, not the outcome. Laugh about the stuff ups.
  5. Do whatever you can to take the pressure off the ‘perfect performance’ of the skill.
  6. Work with the coach so that they are giving the same message as you – that it is ok to fail and that persistence at training is the answer.

Eventually (it could take many weeks) the ball will go in the hoop or the step over will bamboozle an opponent. This will give them more confidence than any words of encouragement you can offer.

This is what I mean by playing the long game. It will happen, just in their time frame…. not yours.

Expecting a player to make significant changes to their game immediately doesn’t work with most kids. Of course some kids are more willing to try and fail than others. The key is knowing what works best for your child… not you the parent.

 Note: the ‘long game’ does not apply to non-negotiable expectations such as effort, sportsmanship, listening to coaches, following team rules etc.

About the author:

Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance training and coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.