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Sometimes, Let the Athletes Figure it Out

There are times when coaches—and parents—jump in to help high school and youth athletes through a negative result during competition, and as a result they miss out on an opportunity for helping the athletes build lifelong skills. 

“Youth sports is supposed to be about development,” John O'Sullivan, founder of Changing the Game Project, said in an article on the Inside Heja website. “And development is all about making mistakes and learning from them.

“Playing soccer, or hockey, or basketball requires problem solving," O'Sullivan continued. That’s why for coaches it is absolutely critical that you let players figure stuff out for themselves. “The game will teach the kid whether they made a good choice or not.

Even if a coach chooses to let the players work together to overcome a challenge during a game, the coach can still negatively impact the athletes while they sort things out—by their non-verbal cues on the sidelines.

“When an athlete makes a mistake and turns to the coach they need to see positive body language,” O'Sullivan said in the article. “Seeing negative body language, getting subbed out of the game or screamed at by the coach seriously hurts development.”

Of course, it's more likely that the parents of an athlete will be the ones quilty of jumping in too quickly to try and help their son or daughter though a difficult moment on the playing field. Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffett McGraw believes this is becoming all too common.

“Parents today don’t want to give their child a chance to fail, McGraw said in an article on theprovince.com website. The first time there’s adversity, the kids don’t know what to do. They are not able to fight through things.”

In an article on Offspring.com, author and speaker Glennon Doyle—and the wife of two-time Olympic gold-medal soccer player Abby Wambach—provided good advice on what parents should say to their child after every game, win or lose” After every soccer game our daughter plays, my wife says one thing to her and asks one question of her:

1. It was so fun to watch you play!

2. How do you feel about the game?

Also: my wife is one of the greatest soccer players of all time. She knows what Tish did right and wrong and what she could do better next time. She knows!"

But what My wife also knows is this: our daughter has a coach. She needs a mom.”

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