How To Help Young Athletes Learn Form Mistakes

  • 19 Nov, 2015

From the baseball field to the tennis court, mistakes are a natural part of sports. Whether your kid drops the game-winning pass, double-faults their serve at match point, or misses a short putt on the final hole, mistakes will happen.

How To Help Young Athletes Learn From Mistakes 1

As parents, we can’t prevent our kids from making mistakes, but we can teach them how to deal with their disappointments and learn from their experiences. With mistakes and adversity, some negative emotions will naturally occur. But often these emotions can cause athletes to stay stuck in a past performance, which can undermine their confidence.

Teach your kids that there are two ways to react to mistakes. The first option is to get upset, frustrated and angry that you lost the match or did not perform up to your ability, and carry these negative feeling with you for hours after competition.

This choice, clearly not the best option, causes athletes to lose confidence, and potentially motivation for practice and training. An individual’s self-esteem is linked to his or her success and failure as an athlete.

The second way to react is with confidence and composure by focusing on what went well, and using mistakes as motivation to improve. This option is the better choice because it allows athletes to stay positive and think more about improvement.

Parents and coaches should recognize and accept that young athletes will never be perfect or have a flawless performance. The best competitors in the world know this. They work very hard to be the best, but accept that mistakes are inevitable in sports.

Some analysis of mistakes is necessary to improve-especially from a coach’s perspective. Athletes can improve on their weaknesses and grow from defeat.

Being overly critical of your child’s performance is not the best reaction to failure or defeat. We suggest you help your son or daughter to assess their performance objectively by focusing on what they did well and what they can do to improve.

Many fine athletes lose confidence or motivation and even quit sports because they are too critical or judgmental of their performance.

So how can you help your child learn from mistakes? First, observe the cool down period immediately after the game or match, and wait to discuss the performance with your son or daughter. When emotions are elevated, it’s easier for both parents and kids to be self-critical. We suggest a cool down period of at least 30 minutes to allow kids time to get past the emotions of the competition.

We suggest that parents focus on what their athletes did well during their performance. Maybe they didn’t win, but I’m sure you can think of something positive that you can comment on even after a loss. Help your athletes focus on the things they did well such as playing aggressively, working hard until the end of the game, making good passes, hitting a nice shot, or executing a skill.

After you help your athletes focus on a few positive things, make a list of what you think they can improve based on some of the mistakes and mental errors you observed. We suggest you provide this list to a coach so he or she can help your child work on these areas.

Remember that all athletes (even professionals) do not perform perfectly, and always strive to improve. Try not to let your son or daughter fall into the trap of labeling their performance as “good” or “bad.” Focus on what went well. This way your athletes can feel more confident, learn from their mistakes, and in turn become better athletes.

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting

Author @Patrick Cohn

Dr. Patrick Cohn is the owner of Peak Performance Sports and a world-renowned mental training expert who works with athletes of all levels including junior, collegiate, professional, and senior athletes.
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