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When Talented Kid Athletes Face High Expectations

Dr. Patrick J. Cohn

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Chris, the sports mom of an 8-year-old athlete, faces a difficult dilemma: Her son is a talented goalie in hockey, but he's so good that his team mates and coaches rely on him.

Chris's problem: The boy feels so pressured to perform that he recently pretended to be sick to avoid playing goalie in an end-of-season tournament.

Initially, the boy said that he enjoyed the fact that everyone liked him so much for being such a great goalie. However, it's clear that he soon began worrying that peers and coaches wouldn't like him if he didn't perform up to expectations.

When parents have talented or successful athletes who struggle with high expectations, they need to get to the root of what's upsetting or worrying their athletes. First, help the kids identify their own high expectations.

The athlete might say, “If I let my team down, nobody will like me. " Or the child might say, “If I make a mistake, I screw up the game for everyone. " Be sure to openly discuss athletes’ fears or anxieties.

In most cases, kids in this position likely are afraid of failing or afraid of losing their peers', coaches', parents’ approval. They may also be perfectionists who think they shouldn't make mistakes at all.

Often, athletes’ expectations are unrealistic. The athletes may feel as if they must win the game for everyone. Or they may feel as if they are not allowed to make any mistakes. These unrealistic expectations can undermine athletes’ confidence when they don't perform well or up to their own standards.

Discuss these expectations with your sports kids and help them understand that they shouldn't expect so much of themselves. You might remind them that no one is perfect. Tell them that others will like them even if they make mistakes.

Some kids are more open about discussing their feelings than others. With kids who are less likely to open up, be on the lookout for the moments during the day when they're more likely to share their feelings. Sometimes this is when you pick them up from school; sometimes it's just before they go to bed.

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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