In order to maximize the youth sport experience, it is imperative that parents play a proactive leadership role.

In order to maximize the youth sport experience, it is imperative that parents play a proactive leadership role.

There are countless questions to explore, and pitfalls to avoid, making the role of sports parent a very important one for youth athletes. Parents are responsible for many things, including helping kids select the league best suited to their interests and abilities; providing structure in scheduling games, practices, and other related sport experiences; and being knowledgeable about important topics like sports burnout and the mental aspects of injury recovery. As you can see from just those tasks, providing an optimal sport experience takes effort, to say the least.

This week I thought about some of the more important conversations parents should have with their young athletes to help with both better future decision making, as well as to detect potential problems that might be addressed before they develop.

1. Training, nutrition and rest. Kids these days are exposed to countless nutrition ideas when it comes to the foods/supplements they ingest, and oftentimes parents don't have any idea about what they are putting into their bodies. Kids have been known to load up on carbs, eat a ton of protein, and/or use various supplements from the nutrition store (many not approved by the FDA). In addition to diet, it is important to talk to kids about their strength training routines to ensure it is age-appropriate and safe, and that kids are allowing for enough rest in between workouts (as well as getting enough sleep at night).

2. Confidence/anxiety. In sports, confidence and anxiety are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Confident athletes spend the bulk of their time motivated to play, while athletes who struggle with anxiety not only experience performance issues on the field, but often see their stress manifest in unhealthy, off-field coping responses that may even include substance abuse. It is important parents talk about confidence and anxiety, as well as teach kids ways they can increase self-confidence while minimizing negative anxiety.

3. Social media. Most kids these days are connected to social media, making it important for parents to tune in and pay attention to what their kids are posting online. It is especially important for parents to help kids by modeling what is appropriate to post, and to talk openly about the dangers of making emotionally-charged posts immediately after a game that might be perceived as demeaning, threatening, or insulting.

4. Resiliency and coping with stress. If you compete in sports you will inevitably have both good and bad days, but some kids really struggle developing the resiliency needed to bounce back from tough times. Kids who don't develop healthy coping skills run a greater risk for poor sportsmanship, angry outbursts, throwing or breaking equipment, and becoming a problem to teammates and coaches. In worst-case scenarios some kids even quit sports prematurely not because they didn't have the talent, but because they couldn't handle the stress associated with bad days and losing. Parents can help by teaching kids healthy coping skills, or possibly seeking out professional sport psychology resources in their community.

As with many things in life, you get out of the youth sport experience what you put into it. Do your part by being an active sports parent and be sure to talk about the issues discussed in this article.


Dr. Chris Stankovich is a graduate of The Ohio State University and the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center.

For more information visit his