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Filling An Athlete's "Emotional Tank"

Dr. Patrick J. Cohn

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How can parents and coaches fill a young athlete's “emotional tank?"

Coaches need to praise kids five times before they provide one piece of constructive criticism, says David Jacobson, a spokesman for the Positive Coaching Alliance, based at Stanford University.

"We liken a child's emotional tank to a car's gas tank. When the tank is full, it runs well. When it's drained, it doesn't run well, " he explains.

To fill a child's or teen's tank, parents and coaches need to provide a steady flow of specific, truthful praise, Jacobson says. When you do this, sports kids are more confident. They're also more open to criticism and more likely to listen to what the coach or parent has to say.

"When you're praising, you're creating a great feeling for the child so he or she wants to continue the work required to excel as an athlete and take away all the life lessons that sports has to offer, " he says.

It's critical to build young athletes’ confidence by praising them. For many young athletes, confidence is fragile and wavers easily depending on their performance and feedback from parents and coaches. They're less likely to feel confident if they make mistakes or lose a match and get criticized. One of your goals is to help your child develop a more stable level of confidence. Help them through the bumps in the confidence roller coaster.

Here's another way to fill your kids’ emotional tanks and boost their confidence: Teach them how to praise themselves. Help your kids create a confidence resume. It may include a fun practice, a past experience, a successful game, skills improvement or good coaching. Ask your kids to review their confidence resumes before competing.

To develop confidence, kids, should have a “highlight reel" in their heads just before a game, says Robert Troutwine, Ph. D. , founder of Troutwine and Associates. That's a mental image of their most amazing play, move or moment in sports. It's an image of a play, move or moment that makes them feel on top of the world!

Remember: The last thing we want is for your young athletes to mentally rehearse bad plays, moves or moments in sports!

Why? Because they'll be practicing the wrong things. They'll allow self-doubt to creep into their minds. They'll be totally distracted!

However, playing in their heads a highlight reel that's a totally awesome moment will help them feel confident-it will give them the feeling they can and will succeed.

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick J. Cohn are co-founders of “The Ultimate Sports Parent. " The Ultimate Sports Parent is devoted to helping sports parents and youth sports coaches improve confidence and success in young athletes. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes" and free e-course by visiting


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