My Kid Won’t Listen to Me: The Challenge Facing Parents of Athletes

The most prevalent conundrum in which parents of athletes find themselves happens the day their child decides to quit listening to their helpful advice and suggestions. At a certain point in the life of every child, Dad’s role is no longer that of Superman, and Mom is no longer seen as the only provider when a need presents itself. The most common conversation between parents and coaches of amateur athletes starts with the same sentence: “I tell him/her the same things you are saying, but he/she won’t listen to me.” How can a parent cope when this issue surfaces?

Psychologically, young athletes are presented with the challenge to see their parents as both parents and coaches, and this can be a very tricky situation for both parties. While a parent may see their coaching as helpful, the child may feel like they are receiving discipline, even if that was not the intent. Children become accustomed to the frustration they share with their parents when disciplinary action is required; unfortunately, much of coaching in sports happens when an athlete is not practicing or performing in the way they have been instructed, naturally making even the most helpful coaching feel like discipline. Most athletes, even from a young age, develop a knack for being their own toughest critic, and the feeling of parenting is the last thing they want when they are already doing their best to master their sport.

On the bright side, kids look at coaches in a much different light than their parents, even when a coach has to discipline them. Psychology studies have proven that children will try harder when facing new challenges if they are presented by someone other than a parent. Perhaps this is due to the fact that most children already have the understanding that their parents are proud of them, while they feel a greater need to impress coaches in an attempt to give them that same sense of pride. What’s more, when working with a coach a child is instantly forced out of the comfort zone they have built with their parents, and this assists in the learning process because the child can be more receptive to new ideas given to them by someone with whom they do not regularly associate frustration.

Good coaches always want the parents to stay involved, so how can a parent assist in the athletic development process when their kids are at this critical point? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Listen when the coach teaches, and when practicing with the child revert back to the keywords used by the coach.
  2. Encourage extra practice by reminding them their coach wants to see their development too.
  3. Video the child in action and ask them to review the video and critique themselves based on the coaching they received in lessons/practices (self-coaching will eliminate the frustration towards parents and also ensure the child’s understanding).
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