Behind the Bench

Don Winsor
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Expectations and confidence

As a finale to my columns on bullying and pushing too hard, allow me to pass on some information on what not to do as youth sports parents and coaches.

I went back in my files and came up with the following letter from a parent of a hockey player in the 9-10-year-old age group. “My child’s coach has two assistant coaches and a lot of first-year atom players on the team. After suffering a recent loss, one of the coaches after the game felt it necessary to degrade the team’s loss and tell the team everything they did wrong.”

The letter goes on... “The coach yelled loudly at the team for their poor performance and then proceeded to single out specific players for their poor performance, all the while with a loud and angry voice. Another coach apparently said to the team, “If I had to say what I want to say to you, I would be fired as a coach.” My child was upset enough from losing the game, and the dejection he felt from the coaches was evident to me. I along with other parents became very upset that the coaches had taken this approach. Is yelling at 10-year-old children acceptable and responsible? Is pin-pointing a child’s failure in front of his peers acceptable?”

The parent was right to get upset. This kind of behaviour from a coach or parent after a game hurts kids’ confidence, success and enjoyment of the game. In fact, if coaches and parents focus only on mistakes, like these coaches did, the players will likely develop fear of failure and/or fear of making mistakes. They will scrutinize their mistakes. Thus, they can’t play freely, but will instead play to avoid making mistakes. It’s quite simple really, fear of failure hurt’s kids performance. Young athletes play to their potential when they feel confident and free and are willing to take risks.

“In fact, if coaches and parents focus only on mistakes, like these coaches did, the players will likely develop fear of failure and/or fear of making mistakes.”

So after a game, realize how important it is to be positive - both coaches and parents can find one or two positive things to say about how the kids played. And be clear that your players’ performance don’t reflect on them as people - often, young athletes link their self-esteem with their performance.

As a parent senses when their child is being pressured by a coach, it is also true that a good coach will know when a player is being pressured by the parent. The coach will also know the problems such well-meaning expectations can create in young athletes.

For example, a kid’s dad wants the child to play goalie, but when the dad isn’t listening, the boy says he wants to play defense. That’s a real quandary for the child. He’s looking for Dad (or Mom) and worrying about what Dad (or Mom) thinks. A good coach will sense when his/her young athletes are driven to do something to meet their parents’ expectations. How can a coach know this? The child will feel pressured, to the point where his/her passion and/or interest is affected.

How do parents’ and coaches’ expectations affects kids’ passion and interest? Certainly not in positive ways. And certainly not in ways that improve their mental game or performance. Parents and coaches need to understand the difference between helping kids strive for a goal and placing expectations on them. When kids reach for a goal, it’s a continuous process and the goal is not set in stone.


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