Several parents asked how they should interact with their child at races, in practice, and off the track.
Dr. Cohn discusses a few general guidelines parents or motocross racers can follow to help their child star succeed and be happy in sports
- Motocross should be just a game for young athletes. Sport is just a game for young athletes–it is not a business. With all the money in professional sports today, it is hard for parents to understand that racing is just fun stuff for young athletes. Focus on the game instead of the rewards that may come from the game.
- Self-motivation or intrinsic motivation is the best type of motivation. Racers love their sport and love the competition–that is enough of a motivator for most athletes to drive them. Motivation must be cultivated from the love of sports and competition – from within the athlete himself. Try to avoid giving rewards and extrinsic motivators to motivate your child. You want them to practice and compete for themselves and not because they want to do it for you or to please a parent.
- Your agenda is not your child’s agenda. Young athletes play sports for many reasons. They love the competition, social aspect, being part of a group, and enjoying the challenge. Your agenda for your child’s participation might interfere with your child’s motivation to compete. Make sure you understand their motivation to compete before imparting your desires.
- Help your child athlete focus on the process of execution instead of results. We live in a society that focuses on results and winning, but winning comes from working the process. Everyone is trying to win the race, but teaching your child to focus on the process, the here and now, and the challenge of one motto at a time will help them have a better chance at winning.
- Model composure and poise trackside when going to big events, as you are a role model. When trackside, your child will pick up and mimic your behavior. You become a role model in how you behave at events or during a close race. If you become tight, serious, and controlled at national events, so will your child. To perform well, the goal is to be loose, carefree, but at the same time focused on racing.
- Always precede constructive criticism after a race with positive reinforcement. It’s easy to jump in and give your child advice on what not to do in the next race or how to do better, but you should first give positive encouragement and pick out one or two skills your child did well.
- Resist trackside coaching at races. Practice and training is over. During races, it time to let them play. Athletes have to let go of the training and technique so they can trust what has been learned and practiced. “Just do it” as the saying goes. Too much coaching on the details of racing can lead to controlled or cautious racing.
- Help your child detach self-esteem from achievement. To many athletes I work with attach their self-worth to their level of performance. Help your athlete understand that they are a person FIRST who happens to play sport instead an athlete who happens to be a person. Success in sport should not be the determinate of self-esteem. Help them separate the person from the athlete.
- Separate your role of parent from role of coach. Many parents wear the hat of coach too. This had both advantages and disadvantages. The danger is that your son is not able to separate the constructive criticism you give when in the role of coach from you being the parent. It is easy for young athletes to take criticism personally and perceive it as an attack (on self) from the parent, instead of interpreting it as helpful advice from you the coach. Do you best to draw a line between your roles as a coach and as parent. Define the line and time between the two roles.
- Ask the right questions after races. Asking the right questions after racing tells your child what you think is important in sports. If you always ask: “Did you win?” your child will think winning is the most important. If you ask: “Did you have fun?” he will assume having fun is important.
- Fuel their confidence. Confidence can be fragile for young athletes. You want to help your child develop a healthy base of confidence that does not go up and down drastically depending only on the last race results. Real confidence is stable and enduring. Help your child grow confidence by focusing them on what they did well after each race, encouraging them to improve upon instead of dwell on mistakes, and hit the kill switch on doubts quickly so they don’t drain the power from confidence.
Below are some great resources for sports parents:
National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS) (800) 729-2057 www.NAYS.org
PAYS (Parents Association for Youth Sports) provides a parental handbook and code of ethics that adults must sign before each season.
Positive Coaching Alliance 650.725.0024 http://www.positivecoach.org/
Coaches can attend conferences and workshops on how to become a more positive influence on kids. Center for Sports Parenting http://www.sportsparenting.org/csp/
Get expert advice about dealing with the challenges of youth sports, including adult misbehavior at events and the ways adults can be made to act properly.