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How to Be the Best Parent to a Young Female Athlete

Being a parent is hard. Being a parent of a young female athlete is harder. I talk to parents daily, and many break down for fear they’ve ruined their child(ren). I always remind them that they haven’t, and they are doing the best they can. There’s always opportunity for growth -for them and for their daughters.

The important thing is that you reinforce these things starting at an early age. It’s also important to realize what impact you can have and what impact you shouldn’t or can’t have.

Here’s a quick guide!

Why do girls play sports?

Girls don’t really get into sport to be competitive. They don’t actually like being competitive with their friends. The number one factor that brings girls to sport is having fun. At an early age sports are inherently fun. Even when it’s hard work and it’s competitive, girls still expect it to be fun.

The number two factor is social interaction. Many girls get into sport because their friends are doing it. Heck yeah! I wanted to be where my friends were and doing whatever they were doing. Even when sports gets competitive, social interaction in and around sport needs to continue to exist.

The number three factor is learning. Motivation and confidence are boosted by deliberate practice and learning. Taking this one step further, girls want to be part of the process, i.e., “What do you want to work on in practice today?” To learn, girls need feedback that focuses on the situation, not on them as a person. They need feedback on things which can be acted on.

“Criticism complains; feedback explains.”

What’s happening developmentally at seven to ten years of age?

Girls are still having fun in sports until approximately age ten. Up until this time their mental skill development is happening by chance – something happens, and they unconsciously figure out how to reach and deal with it.

Girls start to put the pieces together to solve problems. They begin to plan and set long-term goals and expectations. Girls demonstrate some basic strategies to resolve conflicts with their friends and show increased capacity to understand social cues. They recognize and understand emotions in themselves and in others; girls start to feel empathy. They’re better able to express their emotions, and when we give them strategies, they’re better able to manage their emotions.

What starts to happen developmentally at 11-13 years of age?

After 11 years old girls become more conscious of what’s not working mentally for them. They start to feel the cognitive and emotional connection to their performance. The mental skills and coping mechanisms they learned through happenstance don’t work.

At this age, girls are able to develop more advanced skills for planning, organizing and problem solving. They can learn to reframe and redirect their attention and turn a negative into a positive. Girls start to recognize more complex emotions and how they are impacted by them. They can start to understand different perspectives, work collaboratively and practice teamwork.

What do you need to know and learn?

  • What your daughter wants from a sport
  • What physical skills should be developed at this early stage
  • How you can support your female athlete
  • What mental skills she needs for sports
  • How these mental skills help her navigate life

What can parents do to help their young female athlete?

  • Understand the support your female athlete needs
  • Communicate with her about what she wants
  • Learn what physical and mental skills she needs
  • Encourage her to explore life and sports
  • Listen

What are some absolute no-no’s as a parent?

  • Scout opponents
  • Act as an assistant coach
  • Analyze technique or movement patterns
  • Give pre-game tactical advice
  • Do post-game talks
  • Push to win and/or for perfection
  • Allow your own feelings to get in the way or take things personally
  • Punish

When I talk to parents they often say, “I want my daughter to have fun and enjoy what she is doing!” Your female athlete is trying to do that, but without all of the right mental tools they struggle. Parents assume kids have mental skills and don’t understand that kids aren’t equipped with these skills. They are not born with these tools, just like they are not born playing their sport. That’s where you come in! That’s how you can be the best parent to a young female athlete.

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