Sports Psychology for Kids Articles

How Can I Improve My Young Athlete's Attitude?

Eli Straw
How Can I Improve My Young Athlete's Attitude?

Mental toughness for young athletes boils down to their attitude. Young athletes who learn how to manage their emotions and play with a positive attitude have a greater chance of developing and strengthening mental toughness.

In this article you will learn why a strong mind and attitude are so closely related, and key ways you can help improve your young athlete’s attitude.

Mental Toughness for Young Athletes & Attitude

There are many reasons why, as a coach or parent, you want to improve your young athlete's attitude. But I would imagine it can be grouped into two distinct reasons: to have more fun while playing, and to increase performance.

It’s hard to enjoy yourself with a sour attitude. Just as it is difficult to play your best when you have a lousy attitude. A positive attitude is needed to not only enjoy your sport, but to also perform well.

Mental toughness is very much the same.

When you’re mentally strong, this increases your performance. That’s the reason coaches push for athletes who are mentally tough.

In addition, a strong mind allows you to enjoy yourself more.

With all the setbacks, challenges, and pressures felt by athletes, no matter at what level, if they are met with a mind that cannot handle them, it’s hard to find much joy in your sport any longer.

As a mental performance coach, I have worked with many athletes who’ve lost the love for the game, due in large part to the many expectations they feel and the fear and anxiety surrounding their game.

In addition, to be mentally strong takes a positive mindset. Learning how to improve their attitude is a key step towards developing mental toughness for young athletes.

How to Improve Your Young Athlete’s Attitude

It’s not always easy to keep a positive and optimistic attitude, especially in sports where defeat and failure are all too common.

To help your young athlete improve their mindset, there are certain tips to keep in mind.

Tip #1: View Attitude as a Controllable Factor

A lot of times we find ourselves saying, “I’m mad because of______,” or “That player made me really upset.”

Does speaking in this way signify our attitude is within our control or not in our control? It signifies that it’s not in our control.

Except, the truth is, your attitude is always in your control. You get to approach a game or any situation with the mindset you choose. The same goes for your young athlete.

Begin teaching them that they can have a positive mindset no matter what. Start asking them what type of attitude they want to bring to the field, and that will help them realize it is within their control to choose.

Tip #2: Change How You Speak After a Game

Attitude must be trained, and the best way to do so, is to change the way you talk with your young athlete following a game or practice.

As cliché as it may sound, if you ask them questions like, what did you enjoy today, that will work to help them realize where their focus needs to be placed.

When you focus so much on outcomes, this can lead an athlete to begin associating how they should feel with what the outcome was. Then, if they make a mistake, or have a bad game, they are likely to approach the next play/game with a negative attitude.

It’s best to have a system in place for how you evaluate and talk about games and practices. When your aim is to improve your young athlete’s attitude, here is what the system looks like:

  • Question #1: What did you enjoy about today?
  • Question #2: What did you do well today?
  • Question #3: Where can you improve?

Tip #3: Focus on Your Attitude

Young athletes pick up the subtlest of signs from your own behavior. Whether you’re a parent or a coach, if you want your athlete to have a better mindset, you need to adopt one yourself first.

Think about how you speak going to a game. Do you have negative comments about the field or court they’re going to play on? If you’re a parent, do you talk badly about the coach or any of the other players?

Do you say how awful the officials are/were?

Are you excited as you drive them to the field or while the team is warming up?

Do you respond to mistakes and adversities in a calm, optimistic manner? In a way you would like them to respond.

Your responsibility is to lead by example. If you want your young athletes to have a better attitude, you need to first adopt one yourself. They will mimic what they see you do and how they see you act.

It is your responsibility to give them a good example to look up to.

Tip #4: Teach them How to Manage Mistakes

Mental toughness for young athletes requires resilience. They must have the ability to make mistakes, and bounce back from them without having it impact their future performance.

A huge deterrent to a positive attitude is making mistakes.

Nobody wants to make mistakes, but they happen. Especially in sports, mistakes will be made and failures will be experienced. The important thing is, how will you respond?

As a coach or parent, you must teach your athlete how to handle these mistakes in a healthy and positive way.

The best way to do so is by showing them that mistakes are learning opportunities, rather than judgments of how good they are as a player.

Teach them to use these mistakes as ways to grow, and the best way to do so is by always turning it in a positive way, asking: what can you learn or how can you improve?

Final Thoughts

Attitude is everything.

To have a young athlete not only perform their best, but enjoy themselves along the way, a positive and optimistic attitude is needed.

Developing such a mindset requires you, as the coach or parent, to pay attention to how you are speaking, how you are acting, and help show them that mistakes are opportunities to learn.

If you do, you will be doing your part to develop a good attitude; a key component to mental toughness for young athletes. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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