The Spring Sports season will be here before we know it, meaning that Track & Field will take
center stage. This year will be unlike any in the history of high school sports. We will be coming
off a very different track season, with many athletes having extremely high expectations and
goals or no expectations and goals at all. So, how can you, as a parent, help your athlete achieve
their lofty goals? Or to set goals that will encourage them to seek challenge, as well as learn from
successes and mistakes? The answer is simple and complex, or “simplex” as I like to say. In
short, you need to be your Student-Athlete’s NUMBER ONE FAN! This can be accomplished by
following three simple strategies.
1. Ask why your athlete participates in their sport and what their goals are
2. Don’t obsess over PR’s
3. Be a supportive fan/parent and let the coach be the coach
Let us look at each one individually.
Ask why your athlete participates in their sport and what their goals are.
Communication is one of the most powerful tools for maintaining a strong and supportive
relationship. Your athlete is aware of the financial and personal sacrifices you have made in
order to provide them the opportunity to participate in Track & Field (or any sport/activity). As
a result, they want to make sure that these sacrifices are rewarded (in a perfect world, right? Ha
Ha!). Unfortunately, this also results in athletes frequently competing and setting goals based on
a fear that they are not sufficiently rewarding your sacrifices. To counter this performance
debilitating pressure, ask your athlete what it is they want to get out of their sporting experience.
Ask what their goals are and how you can best support these goals. Make sure to listen to what
they are saying.
By asking your athlete these two simple questions, you demonstrate a fundamental trust in their
dedication and commitment to a pursuit and interest. This will give your athlete an increased
level of autonomy over their pursuit of personal excellence. This autonomy increases their desire
to persevere through training/competition and builds their level of self-competence. When we
feel good about our abilities (self-competence) we are more open to fully commit to a group and
pursue a shared goal of excellence. Thus, your athlete is fulfilling the three basic psychological
needs of motivation as outlined by the Self-Determination Theory: Autonomy, Competence, and
Don’t Obsess over PR’s
Track & Field is a beautiful sport for many, many reasons; possibly the most prominent being
how objectively definitive the results are. You ran as fast, threw as far, jumped as far/high as you
did and there is no arguing about it. Unfortunately, it is this exact definitiveness that can also be
very detrimental to athletes achieving peak performance. Was a PR (personal record), or SB
(seasons best) achieved? If yes, then success! If no, then FAILURE!
This all or nothing mentality causes your athlete to not only fear failure, but to become
increasingly risk averse. Why would they ever take a chance on a new technique or race strategy
if the outcome is not guaranteed to bring success? This prevents athletes from learning from
each performance. A successful performance is met with such overwhelming relief that there is
often not enough energy left to reflect on what made the performance so successful. A “failed” performance is so personally damaging that it serves to amplify self-doubt and blocks out
feedback that could be used to improve future attempts. In short, your athlete will not reflect on
their performance, meaning that each time they perform, they are essentially starting from
scratch. They don’t know what worked well and what did not. No plan will be developed to
figure out how to grow their abilities and skills. As a result, your athlete will not use one of the
most powerful training tools, the training log, because self-reflection has become scary along
with fearing failure. Why would they want to constructively reflect on a performance deemed a
failure? Not reflecting results in the athlete guessing what to do next and where they are in
terms of development and progress towards their goals.
Be a supportive fan/parent and let the coach be the coach.
Your athlete wants you to enjoy watching them perform and to celebrate their successes and
support them through their failures. They are not necessarily looking for coaching from you. As
a parent, you already do so much for your athlete, when they are performing (and after) it is
your time to sit back and relax, to simply be their Number One Fan! Let the coach be the coach.
(With that being said, your number one job is the health and safety of your athlete, so please,
speak up loudly and frequently if you believe your athlete’s health and safety are at risk.). Bruce
E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC have worked with highly successful athletes
over several decades and they conducted a survey of elite college athletes. This survey asked
athletes what they liked/wished they heard from their parents. The overwhelming response was
shockingly simple: “I love to watch you play”. This is powerful evidence that your athlete wants
you to be their number one fan who is impressed by their accomplishments, not the person who
is always finding something they did not do quite to expectations.
The performance triad consists of three members, the athlete, the coach, and the parent. The
most successful triads are the ones where roles are clearly defined and followed. The coach uses
their knowledge of what is done at practice, what the goals were for the competition, and what
can be done to adjust training. Let them do this hard work. You get to do the fun and fulfilling
work of being proud of your athlete!
Your athlete wants you to be proud of them and to know you believe the many sacrifices made in
the name of sport are worth it. This is done by listening to your athlete, asking thoughtful
questions (and refraining from providing solutions, unless they ask for some), encouraging them
to always seek their personal excellence instead of always fixating on PR’s or nothing, and most
importantly by being their number one fan.
Colin Lyons, MS: Applied Sports Psychology, is a mental strength coach in Denver with a private
practice OMP Training. A former Division I Track & Field athlete and current coach, Colin works
with individual athletes and teams to help them develop the mental strength skills to
consistently perform at peak levels. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or
through his website www.omptraining.com.
What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform
Parents Ruin Sports for Their Kids by Obsessing About Winning
Catch Them Being Good by Tony Dicicco, & Colleen Hacker, PH.D., with Charles Salzberg