Sports Participation and Success in Life

A follow-up to our earlier post on the correlation to playing sports and success in life, this by our regular contributor, Dean Herbert.

Sports psychology has some interesting findings about athletes and the effect of participation in sports.

Much of the research supports what is called “gravitational” hypotheses. That is, that a certain personality type will gravitate towards athletic involvement. What exactly have they found? In various studies they have found that athletes are more confident, competitive, objective and outgoing; as well as less anxious than their sedentary counterparts.

What does this mean to parents and coaches? It means that many athletes already possess characteristics that will make them successful in life outside of sports.

However there are other studies that have indicated that involvement in sports in the developmental years prior to maturity can foster some positive developmental effects upon personality (extroversion, stability).

What does this mean to the coach and parent?
Whether a youth athlete currently possesses these “success” characteristics or they can be developed; the advice is the same. All athletic programs for youth should place a premium on the development of self-worth, confidence building and foster independence. Winning should be relegated to secondary importance.

This is of course a tough message for most of us to hear. But there is a critical message and differentiation that has to be made. The primary purpose of youth sports is to foster development of desirable physical and psychosocial characteristics. Youth sports is a microcosm of society in general not of professional sports. The design is to assist youth in learning to cope with realities of life through sport. To that end, if we (parents and coaches) do not create that environment we have failed to serve the best interest of our children.

Some messages that must come through win or lose
· The boys and girls are loved, accepted and valued regardless of their performance. They are more than the sum of their athletic performances.
· Coaches and parents should never berate a child for a poor performance. Use these instances for learning opportunities on how to do it better next time.
· Coaches and parents need to use both winning and losing as opportunities to learn. Life includes winning and losing. Everyone must learn how to cope and be gracious.
· Teach qualities of persistence, good sportsmanship, emotional self-control, the ability to handle adversity and rebound.
· Role model the very behaviors you want to see in your athlete. If you are over emotional, over critical, over protective or overly focused on just winning then that is what you will foster in your athlete. If you role model patience, incremental improvement, tolerance of a variety of skill levels, graciousness in all game and practice situations and learning from adversity – that is what your athletes will learn. That is what these youth will bring with them into adulthood. These are lessons that they will carry with them for life.

Dean Hebert M.Ed. MGCP is a certified mental games coach specializing in youth athletes and youth coaches. He has authored several books and hundreds of articles. He works with individuals, teams and coaches in all sports as well as performs guest speaking engagements on mental toughness. His website is

Leave a comment: