Parenting Young Elite Athletes

Rad Kids

Every year another crop of future U.S. team members join us in the Team Summit Snowboard Program.  Some of the kids show up expecting to play and have fun in the snow, some show up motivated to ride and learn tricks that they saw Scotty Stevens do on youtube, and some are not sure why they are there because their parents just signed them up.  Regardless of why the kids enter our program our approach with each of them is the same, If the day is fun it is not wrong.  When kids are having fun they will not only progress in skill but buy into the values of hard work, dedication, and the over all process of becoming a champion.  Not all kids buy into the process the same.  Not all parents agree with the, “if it’s fun it is not wrong” philosophy right away (but kids athletics are supposed to be fun).  Many parents say, “My kid needs to be pushed.”  Is Pushing what a good coach does?

Lets examine the idea of being “pushed.”  To need to push something means that there is resistance to progress.  In terms of human emotion when pushing against this resistance there is often an avoidance response.  Avoidance is not productive and I would argue a good coach does not “push.”  Many people can remember someone in their lives helping them do things that seemed impossible.   I would guess, that those impossible tasks were things the inspired individual always wanted to do, but did not see the path to accomplish these tasks until someone showed them.  Athletes and parents often confuse inspiration with being pushed.  The idea of being pushed to progress is simply false.

Think about a time when you have actually been pushed.  It usually sounds something like, complete the project tomorrow or your fired, you have 48 hours to sell 5 ads, control your labor or we will find someone who can, or get on base or your cut.  Pushing someone to do something typically creates resentment if they are not internally motivated to complete the task themselves.  A good coach does not push.  A good coach inspires.  They inspire through education, patience, and fun.  Inspiration sounds something like, “I know this task is hard.  Can you see how it will help you accomplish your goals,” or “we have to learn to ride switch first before we can do 180’s.”  Inspiration comes from the bigger picture.  Learning to complete the steps nessesary to finish the big picture is the same as finishing any job in life.  I am a father of 2 boys who are both very good at what they do on snow and on a bike.  I know how exciting it is to see my boys learn a new trick or hit a new jump.  I also know how frustrating it is to see them be ready to try a new trick and they just won’t do it.  Just like I do not punish my kids for being too afraid to try a new trick I do not praise them for landing a new trick or hitting a new feature.  I do tell them I am proud of their accomplishment but I praise them for something different.

Let me explain.  Kids shock me all the time at how they make decisions.  I have learned to be patient and let the kids make decisions in their own time.  While we wait for the athletes to be ready to execute their new tricks we help them tick the boxes on the skills necessary to complete their goals and build a mental understanding of the end result.   However, there are ways to help them speed up the process of executing new tricks and achieving new levels of athleticism.


Praise kids for their work ethic more than the outcome.  Kids will feel pressure to be perfect in their execution (especially teenagers).  They often feel that if they don’t do something perfect the first time they are failures.  Praising their work ethic lets them know that it is okay to fail as long as they keep trying.  As parents we often reflect on our own athletic backgrounds.  It is easy to remember how good it felt to win that championship, or the feeling of comeradery with our team after a busy season.  Those feelings often overshadow all the grueling 2 a days, early mornings, and painful lessons that came with the championship and friendships.  Praising kids for the outcome of completing a trick more than the work that goes into the trick can lead to burning the athlete out when they encounter more difficult tricks.  It is unrealistic to think that an athlete will execute perfectly the first time every time.  If an athlete only receives praise on their outcomes they will start to mentally defeat themselves when they are faced with a truly challenging task.  Be proud of their accomplishments and praise your child’s work ethic to make them eager to try more difficult tasks as they get older and more skilled.

Time and time again I have seen kids work at their own speed with their mental understanding and confidence in their skills before finally executing that new trick. Positive talk and guidance will take an athlete further in their journey through sports than pushing them to get the job done faster.  Developing passion is what will bring athletes back after injury and help them achieve more difficult tasks.  Kids will often repeat things their parents say and copy their parents habits.  Practice these ideas on yourself and pay attention to your reactions.  Go out with your kids, when the time is appropriate, and show them how to have fun while working to learn something new.

One thought on “Parenting Young Elite Athletes

  1. Thanks for the insights, Matt! True. How far can a kid go without passion and self-motivation? Anything less is hardly a formula for the long-term. Thanks for keeping coaches and athletes focused on the bigger picture.


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