Ask The Experts
Benched: Helping your young athlete cope with dwindling playing time
Q: About halfway through my son’s soccer season his coach began to give him and another lesser-skilled player very little playing time. Regardless of the score these kids were only put on the field for a few minutes. My son, who’s 11, would come home dejected that he didn’t get to participate. I chose not to get involved and encouraged him to speak with his coach about what was happening. I told him that life was not always fair but to keep working toward his goals. Did I handle this the right way?
A: You definitely handled this situation in the right way. As a parent, I am sure it is difficult for you to see your son dejected and not having the youth sport experience he wants. With your approach you gave him the benefit of learning how to cope with challenges on his own.
Helping him to process what he is thinking and feeling about his experiences is essential, but trying to fix his problems for him (for example, if you would have gone to speak to the coach yourself) or taking your son’s side by agreeing with him that the coach isn’t acting fair, would not benefit him in the long run.
By emphasizing to him that effort and what he puts into things is what matters, you help him to adopt a growth mindset and learn to persist in the face of challenges, obstacles and unwanted outcomes. He needs to set concrete goals and determine a plan for trying to reach those goals, staying focused on what he can control rather than the things he can’t control.
If he puts in the hard work and gets a positive outcome, then help him celebrate that success so he can build strong, resilient confidence. If he doesn’t get a positive outcome, help him think about what he could have done better or different so that he can use it as a learning experience to improve for next time.
Suggesting to him that he go and speak to the coach was also a good idea, if he approaches it in the mindset of asking for feedback on what he can be demonstrating, working on, etc., in order to improve his skill. Having good, open communication with coaches is important for athletes to learn how to do well.
One last way you can help your son is by encouraging him to clarify his motivation and purpose for playing soccer so that he can increase his resilience and drive toward staying focused on the experience of playing and working hard for something rather than on the outcomes he gets for doing so.
Dr. Lauren S. Tashman is a Certified Consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services at Barry University in Miami, Fla. She also provides mental coaching to athletes, coaches and teams via her private practice, Inspire Performance Consulting, LLC. You may also contact her on Facebook and Twitter.
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