Sports Parents Need Mental Training Too

By Drs. Lisa and Patrick Cohn

As a sports psychology expert, I often work very closely with my students’ parents when I provide one-on-one mental coaching for young athletes. That’s because it helps me—and my students--when parents are knowledgeable about “mental game” strategies for young athletes.

Yes, parents need mental training, too!

Parent sometimes can impede my mental coaching process, even though they have the best intentions.

Parents’ expectations can pressure young athletes. Parents will often impose their own expectations on their kids, thinking that they are actually boosting their confidence. But often, the opposite is true.

When coaching my students in golf, I try to help the parents and athletes understand that strict expectations limit kids’ performance. They often do this by undermining kids’ confidence.

Confidence leads athletes into the winner’s circle. Expectations lead athletes to frustration when they are not performing up to their self-imposed ideals.

When working with students, I teach these concepts and help young athletes identify expectations that hurt their performance.

Parents, in their efforts to be supportive, often say or do things that are interpreted by the child as expectations. Let’s get back to my golf example. A parent, with good intentions, might say, “You should be able to shoot even par on this course today – you have done it before.”

It sounds supportive and seems like the correct thing to say, right? Not from a mental game perspective. Young golfers can interpret such statements in surprising ways. In this case, the child may think he should shoot even par and if he doesn’t, he’s letting down his parents.

I know…sounds like a stretch, but this is how the mind of the young athlete works. He internalizes your high expectations, then becomes more conscious about his score for the day. He believes he should shoot even par for the day.

This is why parents need mental training too. You need to impart the mental game lessons that I teach my students.

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

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