Is Your Parenting Style Killing Your Child’s Motivation?

by Justin Sayban

Is Your Parenting Style Killing Your Child’s Motivation?

70% of kids quit sports by the age of 13. Think about that, that’s A LOT of kids. And the way you parent can have a large influence on your child’s motivation to stay in sports, love their sport, want to work hard at their sport and succeed. But unfortunately, too often parents use techniques that they think are helping, but in reality they are doing the exact opposite.

If you fall into one of these three categories, it’s not too late to turn things around, but it’s definitely time to reassess your methods.

The Over-Praiser Parents: I’m sure you know one of these parents; they are the ‘my kids shit don’t stink’ parents. They are continually saying how amazing their kids are and praising them every chance they get. By continually sending that message to their kids, they could really be setting them up for failure. Research on the psychology of success by Carol Dweck and several other studies have revealed there is a right way and a wrong way to praise children. Kids told they are ‘smart,’ or athletically gifted’ and praised on things out of their control, are more likely to struggle when faced with challenges. This is because they think their abilities are fixed and not something they can improve upon, so they internalize the struggles as failures, which can often lead to them quitting. Whereas kids praised for their effort, view struggles as challenges, another opportunity to overcome or improve upon their last game or practice. To praise effort, you give valuable feedback and encouragement about the process and not the end goal. So instead of saying ‘you played awesome today, great win.’ You could say, ‘You did a great job of motivating your teammates when you guys were down a goal’ or ‘I know you’ve been working on your left foot, looks like it’s paying off.”

It’s Too Darn Important Parents: Another way parents de-motivate their kids, is that they pressure them instead of supporting them. These two can look very similar, often parents think they are supporting when they are actually pressuring. But the difference to the child is enormous. You know the parent with the mad face in the stands when their kids aren’t playing well, yelling at them, or dissecting their mistakes on the car ride home. These parents are over-emphasizing the importance of sports in both obvious and subtle ways. When support crosses the line to pressure, not only is the fun stripped away from the game for the kids, but it’s also de-motivating, causing kids to stop trying. It’s human nature to feel that if you don’t try and you fail, that’s somehow better than trying your best and failing, thereby disappointing your parents and confirming their worst fears, that you’re a failure. What appears as ‘not trying’ is actually fear of failure or avoiding it altogether. For parents who take it a step further and use intimidation or threats to motivate, those methods are short-lived. They will only teach an athlete to avoid something, not to do something. It’s also the best way to permanently damage your relationship with your child.

The Bribers: Lastly, misguided parents try to motivate through incentives like trophies, money, or ice cream. None of these methods will get you too far. Bribing with extrinsic motivation leaves an athlete unfulfilled and robs them of a higher, more authentic sense of purpose. We’ve all probably tried this at one point or at least thought about doing it. But in essence, you are literally stealing from them the innate gains and intrinsic goodness of playing a sport. Instead of bribing, try modeling a love for sports and helping your child find their own motivation for playing. Talk to them about the gifts of being on a team, learning grit, teamwork, the power of what a team can accomplish, discipline, working towards goals, and honor of playing for something bigger than themselves.