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Danger zone: Pre-game pep talks

Danger zone: Pre-game pep talks


Giving your young athlete what you think is a motivational talk before they take the field often does more harm than good.

By Dr. Patrick Cohn and Lisa Cohn

Pre-game pep talks from parents aren’t very successful in helping young athletes succeed.

Often, parents have the best of intentions when they give their kids pep talks. They might say something like, “You’re the most talented player out there…Go for it!” Or, “I want you to score three goals today.” Or, you might say, “Remember all the great pointers about free-throw shots: Get your stance right. Make sure your head’s in the right position…”

Telling your young athletes they could score three goals – or achieve some other target – often imposes expectations on them. Young athletes can take on these expectations as their own. When they adopt your expectations, they might feel really bad about themselves if they don’t meet them. They also might even feel like they let you down.

They might start calling themselves names (“I’m a terrible player”) or they might get frustrated (“I’m never going to be able to make a three-pointer today!”) 

Either way, you’ve inadvertently created high expectations with the potential to sink your child’s confidence – when you probably intended to build it up!

When you give your young athlete very specific and technical instructions before a game, you’re likely filling his head with details he doesn’t need to be thinking about at that moment.

If you tell him how to stand, how his foot should be positioned, where his head should be and where he should be situated on the field before he shoots a goal, it’s too much information. And it might not mesh with what the coach wants your athlete to think about.

If his head is full of technical instructions, he’ll likely freeze up and play tentatively.

Instead, kids need to feel confident enough to play intuitively and freely.

Less information is often better before a game. Athletes must be free to react in a game situation and trust what they have learned in practice. That way, they’ll take risks, play freely and feel more confident.

Try to avoid those pre-game pep-talks.

What’s the most important thing you can tell your athlete before a game? “Have fun out there!”

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and youth sports psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting

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