Sports Education

Goal Setting


Positive Sport Parents can help their kids learn the lessons of goal-setting right from the start of the season. The experts at Positive Coaching Alliance recommend the 100 Point Exercise Tool as a great way to kick off this discussion.

100 Point Exercise

Positive Sport Parents can help their kids learn the lessons of goal-setting right from the start of the season. The experts at Positive Coaching Alliance recommend the 100 Point Exercise Tool as a great way to kick off this discussion.


You and your children each have 100 points to allocate to various goals for the upcoming season. Goals could be things like having fun, improving fitness, making new friends, winning, and learning new skills. You may want to suggest some of these categories to your children, but also you’re your kids to come up with their own categories.

Separately, you and your children write down how you allocate your 100 points and when you are finished you then share them with each other. You might be surprised at the similarities and differences. For example, you may learn how much emphasis your child places on winning, and that may lead to a discussion about keeping wins and losses in perspective.

Consider drilling-down on topics to really understand what your kids are thinking. For example, if you are discussing the topic of winning, you can ask, “How do you feel when you win?” and “How do you feel when you lose?” and — most importantly in terms of teaching an impactful life lesson – “What are some ways we can work on to help you better cope with a loss or other setback?”

What we like best about this exercise is the amount and type of conversation it can create between you and your child. As Positive Sport Parent, you’re leveraging the enthusiasm your kids have for sports to really dig in on some important topics.

What Types of Goals to Set

With the 100-Point Exercise in hand, you and your child can now craft specific goals for the season. . Some will be quantitative and others qualitative. For example, “I’d like to end the season with at least one new friend” or “My goal is to come away from each game feeling like I had the most fun I possibly could.”

As a Positive Sport Parent, try to emphasize goals that pertain to the “life lessons” aspects of sports. Chances are that players and coaches will establish their own goals for sports performance, such as improving skills or achieving certain statistics. And while you may be involved in helping your children pursue those goals — say, in backyard practices — you are irreplaceable as a source of guidance in processing the life lessons available through sports.

Setting these goals with your child gives you something to return to throughout the season. When you debrief a practice or a game, do not forget to ask “Did you have fun?” or “Which of your teammates are starting to feel like friends?”

That approach reminds your children that there is more to sports than just wins, losses and statistics, which may be important in encouraging them to stay with a sport and continue trying their hardest even if their scoreboard results are less than desired. As long as your children see progress toward some of the goals they set before the season started, they should have some feeling of success and view the experience as worthwhile and enjoyable.

Staying Focused On Pursuing and Achieving Goals

Positive Sport Parents can help kids stay focused on pursuing – and ultimately achieving – the goals they have set for themselves for the season. As you watch your child work hard against these goals, you may need to offer tremendous encouragement in the face of disappointing results: “It must have hurt you to miss that shot, but remember you are the kind of person who keeps trying. That attitude and some more practice will help you toward your goals.”

When you stay focused on the goals that your child set out for the season, so too will they stay focused and put the proper context on the ups-and-downs of the season.

Celebrate Success

At the end of the season, pull out that 100-Point Exercise Sheet and remind your athlete that, regardless of the win-loss record, they achieved their goals that they set out for themselves. The learned a new skill, they made a new friend, they had fun during the season. Celebrate the success and talk about where they may have fell short and how their effort measured up against their goals.

It is one of the greatest feelings in the world to work hard and achieve a goal. It can be a horrible feeling to work hard and fall short. Helping your children experience and navigate this range of emotions is among the most important things you will do as a Positive Sport Parent. And, as long as you continually communicate with your children throughout the process from goal-setting to goal-achieving (or not), you are using the youth sports experience to teach your children critical life lessons.


Sports Safety for Parents

The saying goes: “It takes a village.” As Positive Sport Parent, you are part of the village to ensure your child’s safety. Positive Sport Parents take an active role in ensuring the safety of their child as well as the other children on the field, ice, and mat or in the pool.


Here are things to consider as you work to ensure your child’s safety in youth sports:


• The Overall Reputation of the Program and Coaches. Shop around. Ask friends, family, and neighbors. Search online for information, news or ratings of the various youth sports organizations you are considering. Meet the leaders of those organizations and the specific coaches to whom your child may be assigned. If anything does not seem quite right, trust your gut and do not go there.

• Weather. If conditions are too hot, cold or stormy (where lightning strikes are a risk), adjust. Some coaches have higher tolerance for these conditions than others. If you feel the weather creates a risk, contact the coach and excuse your child from practice.

• Field/Court Conditions. When dropping your child off at practice, occasionally take a look around the grounds for broken glass on a blacktop, moisture on a court or holes or bare patches in a field.

• Equipment. Make sure your child’s equipment is in working order – no splintered sticks, cracked helmets, ill-filling pads or misshapen mouth guards. Occasionally check the organization’s equipment for things like worn padding in mats or exposed corners on goals.

• Hydration. Make sure your child is hydrated, especially in extreme heat and humidity. Help your child remember a water bottle even if you think the coach will provide water at a practice or game. Ask your child if the coach allows sufficient water breaks, especially in hot and humid conditions.


• CPR and First Aid. Make sure your child’s coaches and any other parent volunteers at practices are trained in CPR and First Aid.

• Concussions. Head safety and concussions have become an ever-growing concern. Ask your child’s coach about his or her preparedness for dealing with concussions. If you have any suspicion of a concussion or other head injury, get medical attention for your child and ensure there is no return to play until a doctor clears it- no matter how badly your child wants to play.

• Rides Home. Make sure you are comfortable with how your child is getting to and from practices and games. Ask about school, team or league policies in advance. Talk to your fellow parents about carpooling and ensure that everyone who is participating has the right kind of vehicle coverage to ensure your child’s safety in case of a breakdown or worse, an accident.

• Communication. Have a full list of contact information for your child’s coaches, and if possible some or all of the other parents involved with your child’s team.

We know this is not the most fun, exciting aspect of being a Positive Sport Parent, but if you take these ideas to heart, you will be much more able to relax and enjoy your child’s youth sports experience.


Conversation with Athletes

Among the richest rewards of being a Positive Sport Parent is the opportunity to have great conversations with your children. You can use the fun and excitement of sports to connect with your children.

To help your children get the most out of youth sports – especially the critical life lessons in teamwork, effort, and resilience that sports offer – here are a few tips and ideas on how to make the most of those conversations:



Avoid the dreaded Post-Game Analysis or Car Coaching. Walking to the car is not the time to de-brief. Neither is the car ride home. If your children want to talk about the game, they will start the conversation.


Of course, if there is occasion to celebrate, you should, and if consolation obviously is needed you should provide it. You might ask an open-ended question, such as “What did you think of the game?” If conversation ensues – great. If it seems your child does not much feel like talking, respect that.

Pushing your children to discuss a just-finished game play-by-play, especially if they did not perform too well, is a possible way to turn them off sports and from talking to you.


Ask Open-Ended Questions.

Once a conversation starts, keep it going by minimizing questions that invite a one-word answer. You and your child benefit not just from the length of the conversation, but also its quality.

As a Positive Sport Parent, some of the life lessons you want your child taking from sports include self-expression and ability to think on one’s feet. That is more likely to happen if you ask, for example, “What were you guys saying out in the field when your team took the lead?” Depending on what happened in a game, you also may want to ask even more thought-provoking questions, such as “How did you feel when you saw that player go down with an injury?”



Especially if you know the sport your child is playing, it is tempting to share all the knowledge and experience you have. But remember, this is about them and their experience. Your job is to help them process it and learn life lessons.

If you ask a question, really listen to the whole answer. Children perceive that adults rarely listen to them, because, after all, adults are often telling them what to do, say etc. Let your child know you are listening with an occasional nod or “uh-huh.”
Sports are the one area where your children may be able to exert a little control in a conversation. They actually know better than you what was going on during the game, what the strategy was, what coach said. Let them tell you about their experience, and they will want to do so again and again.


Focus on Life Lessons.

There may be a time for instruction in a skill, but more often than you might like to admit, your child’s coach has that covered better than you! What nobody can replace is your unique position as parent to translate the youth sports experience into life lessons
Unless there is something screaming for correction, such as an unacceptable breach of sportsmanship by your child, these topics are best saved for later in a conversation. It may take some time for your child to warm up to a conversation at all, let alone one where you start talking too deeply too soon.
But once the time is right, feel free to steer the conversation to any examples that may be educational for your child, whether from a game, practice, or media coverage of pro sports. For a while, you will still want to listen more than talk, because if your children can reach their own conclusions about the life lesson they should take, that lesson will hit home harder and stick longer. Then, at a certain point, you may want to be quite explicit in telling them exactly the message you want them to take.


Take Care In Talking About the Sport.

When it comes to discussing the team, coach or on-field action, take care to avoid counterproductive comments. For example, if you disagree with a coach’s decision, do not share that with your child, because it undermines a quality coach-athlete relationship. Similarly, do not put your child in position to negatively discuss teammates, coaches, opponents or officials.
If you feel compelled to offer advice on technique, first ask if your child is open to your advice. If not, respect that: “OK, I’ll wait until you are ready, and then you can just ask me if you want to know.” You might also want to know what your child’s coach is teaching so you can complement that instruction or avoid undoing the good the coach may have done in imparting technique.

One final thing to keep in mind, if you go about your conversations with your child correctly you will see that kids like talking about sports so much, they will even discuss them with their parents!

Mastery Approach
Positive Sport Parents care about the scoreboard, but they care even more deeply about instilling a Mastery Approach in their children, which will help them win both on and off the field and throughout their lives.

As expert research has repeatedly proven, focusing solely on the scoreboard increases players’ anxiety, because they can’t control the outcome on the scoreboard.

Ultimately, that anxiety undercuts self-confidence, which affects performance and takes the joy out of sports. Anxious athletes spend their mental and emotional energy worrying about losing instead of focusing on the current play and, of course, focusing on the current play is necessary for mastery and winning.

To keep your kids encouraged and engaged in their sports so they can learn life lessons, help them focus on what they can control. Control is critical to confidence!


There are three key elements to a Mastery Approach and you can remember them with the handy acronym ELM – Effort, Learning and Mistakes. Positive Sport Parents encourage their kids to “climb the ELM Tree of Mastery” by giving maximum Effort, committing to constantly Learning to continue to improve, and remembering that Mistakes are OK, because mistakes help us learn.

The Elements of ELM
If you’d like to introduce ELM to your child, start with Effort. Let them know:


1. You will always be proud of them as long as they give 100% Effort (regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard).

2. You want them to constantly strive to Learn and improve. This involves them comparing their own performance to their own performance (i.e., are they better than they were two weeks ago?).

3. Remind them that Mistakes are an inevitable part of the game. If they are giving 100% and trying new things (as they strive to improve), mistakes are bound to occur, and you want your children to quickly bounce back from mistakes.

More on Effort
In sports, as in many other areas of life, people can take satisfaction from giving maximum effort. Regardless of outcome on the scoreboard (or, for that matter, your children’s report cards) if your kids know they gave it their best, they likely can endure disappointment and re-double their efforts.

One way to persuade your children to keep making maximum effort is to reward them for effort, even when they do not succeed. “I know it did not turn out exactly as you hoped, Johnny, but I’m so proud of your effort I’m making your favorite dessert.” Gradually, they will realize that effort is its own reward, a value they will carry with them toward success in other aspects of life.

More on Learning
Our kids can learn from success or failure. In fact, sometimes we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Reminding your kids that they are not failing so much as they are learning will keep them encouraged.

In all other facets of their lives, your children will have to try new things. Sometimes they will succeed, other times not. The better you equip them to learn from success and failure, the more able they will be to adapt, learn, and improve through whatever life throws at them.

More on Mistakes
Mistakes often result from pushing the envelope, taking chances, stretching limits, growing and learning. Parents who overreact to mistakes cause their children stress and make them nervous about mistakes that they end up making even more or become so intent on avoiding mistakes that they play too tentatively.

Consider establishing a Mistake Ritual, a physical motion you and your children use as a signal to move beyond the mistake and focus on the next play. If your child makes a mistake and looks to you in the stands, use the Mistake Ritual. Some of the best are the “flush” (making a fist, raising it, and then bringing it down in a flushing motion), “no sweat” (signified by flicking sweat off the brow), or “brushing it off” (shown by pretending to dust off the uniform ).

Commitment to A Mastery Approach
Using all three elements of ELM, Positive Sport Parents help their children go for greatness. Emphasizing Effort and Learning are terrific starts. The finishing touch is to let them know Mistakes are OK, especially if they Learn from their Mistakes and continue giving full Effort.

Emotional Tanks
Positive Sport Parents try to keep their children’s “Emotional Tanks” full.” A person’s “Emotional Tank” is like a car’s gas tank; when it’s full they can go most anywhere, but when it’s empty they go nowhere.


Players with full Emotional Tanks are:
o more coachable and likely to listen and respond without resistance
o more optimistic
o better able to handle adversity

The “fuel” for a youth athlete’s Emotional Tank should be a mix of 5:1- five specific, truthful pieces of praise for each piece of specific, constructive criticism. Many parents find this hard to believe, because in our own experience they may have learned that coaching, teaching or parenting equaled “correcting,” and therefore, praise is not parenting. But a Positive Sport Parent who fills Emotional Tanks corrects their children correctly!
Inside the Emotional Tank
Parents sometimes refer to “Tank Filling” as “happy talk.” But remember, the praises must be truthful and specific (i.e., not “Nice job, Ruth” but, “Ruth, I noticed in the second half your cuts to the goal were much sharper.”).
Children are uncanny in detecting false praise and lose some of their respect for those who offer it and are then more closed to suggestion for improvement. In contrast, a major benefit of Tank Filling is that your children know you believe in them, and your praise boosts their confidence, so that they are willing and able to respond well to constructive criticism.
The 5:1 ratio does not mean you must utter five praises immediately before correcting. That also would ring false. Rather, it means that generally you build your children up. Be sure your Tank Filling extends to non-verbal communication. You fill Emotional Tanks when you listen, nod, clap, or smile. Tank drainers include ignoring players, frowning, head-shaking, eye-rolling and negative yelling.
An added value to filling your children’s Tanks is that it sets an example for them to follow in becoming Tank fillers themselves. Their teammates and coaches surely will appreciate that and being a Tank Filler is one of the hallmarks of a team leader.

Tank-Filling Tools
Here are some specific approaches to filling your children’s Emotional Tanks, consistent with the Positive Sport Parent’s role of focusing on the life lessons available through sports.

“You’re the kind of person who…” Statements. Positive Sport Parents have tremendous power to shape the way their children think about themselves. One way is through “You’re the kind of person who…” statements.

Telling kids “You’re the kind of person who…,” fills theirs head with a message that can stick for years. You can deliver messages that empower your children and help them think of themselves as capable people with positive character traits. For example: “I know it upset you that the defender beat you on that play, but I’m proud that you’re the kind of person who learns from the mistake and picks yourself right back up. You handled it perfectly and stayed positive the whole game.”
Of course, this phrase also works outside of sports. “Your Aunt Gladys just called to tell me you wrote such a nice thank you note. It’s great that you’re the kind of person who really knows how to express gratitude.”
Kid-Friendly Criticism
Parents must sometimes correct our kids to help them improve. But you can deliver this feedback with useable information that helps empower your children. For example, “You need to focus!” contains virtually no useable information, compared with, for example, “Remember that if your attention wanders, you can use a little self-talk to remind yourself to re-focus.”
Use if-then statements
To help your children feel in control even while you are advising or correcting, phrase your feedback in the form of an if-then statement. “If you tell your teammates that you feel left out of the offense, then there is at least a better chance they will pass to you more often.”
Make a criticism sandwich
“Sandwich” the criticism between a truthful, specific compliment on each side. The criticism is the meat, while the compliments are the bread. For example: “You usually do a great job of keeping a level head when one of your teammates makes a mistake. I noticed in the second half you did not have the greatest body language after Brandon dropped that pass. I know you’re the type of person who wants to be a great teammate, so I’m sure you can improve that body language next time.”

With these Tank Filling Tools, you and your children are on your way to enjoyment, success and all the other life-lesson benefits of a Positive Sport experience!
Honoring the Game

Positive Sport Parents want to do everything in their power to make sure their children’s youth sports experience is positive. Therefore, they conduct themselves by a code called “Honoring the Game.” To remember components of this code, use the acronym ROOTS, which stands for Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self.


Why ROOTS Matters
Unfortunately, youth sports today can sometimes be a sea of volatile emotions. Sadly some adults and athletes still have a win-at-all-cost mentality. And the heat of competition can sometimes bring out the worst in both adults and kids.
But members of the Play Positive community – parents and coaches – work hard to Honor The Game and teach the principles of ROOTS to our young athletes.
The Elements Of ROOTS
Rules. Positive Sport Parents refuse to bend or break the rules, even if you think you can get away with it.
Opponents. Recognize that a worthy opponent brings out our best and take a “fierce-yet-friendly” attitude into competition. Teach your children that when a whistle blows, help downed opponents to their feet. After games, win or lose, shake their hands, look them in the eye and congratulate them on a game well-played. And consider emulating the principle yourself by shaking the hands of the parents of the opposing players. Talk about setting a great example for your kids!
Officials. Respect officials even when you disagree with them. It’s tempting to join the chorus of criticism for the officials, but stop and think: what good can really come from this. You may not realize it, but your kids have a special ear for your yelling in the stands and in some cases can find themselves humiliated or embarrassed by your yelling. And remind yourself: officials are people too, trying to do the best they can.
Teammates. When you talk to your kids about ROOTS, teach them that they should never do anything to embarrass your team (on or off the field). Do what we can to lift teammates up and help them reach their potential. Being a good teammate means also being a good person.
Self. Live up to your own standards of Honoring the Game, even when others don’t. If the opposing players, coaches or parents act out or somehow disrespect the game, remind your athlete that they still must not.

Tools for Honoring the Game

Work hard to serve as an example of Honoring The Game with your own behavior, and maybe even reminding other parents to Honor the Game. Here are some tools to help you.
Self-Control Routine.

It helps to have — and actually practice or rehearse — a self-control routine. For example:
o take a deep breath
o remind yourself of the discipline required NOT to react
o engage in self-talk (“I need to be a role model. I can rise above this!”)
o turn away from the action
o count to 20 (or 50!)
o try to return to enjoying the game and cheering on your children and others.

Later, you can use the experience as a teachable moment with your children: “I was pretty upset with what happened, but I controlled myself so I wouldn’t do anything that would dishonor the game. And that’s an important lesson I want you to learn from sports — how to develop your own self-control so you will always Honor the Game no matter what.”
Teachable Moments from Televised Sports.

You can use professional sports –positive or negative examples–as teachable moments. When an incident occurs, whether something covered in the media, or something you and your children experience during their own games, let your kids know what you think about it.
Better yet, ask them to talk about it even before offering your opinion. If our kids come to the conclusion that something is or isn’t Honoring the Game and put it into their own words, they are more likely to retain what they have learned.
Anything from a pro sports brawl to exemplary sportsmanship can serve to start a conversation. If you ignore negative incidents, your children may take it as an approval of the misbehavior. Make it clear: “I know you look up to that athlete, but fighting on the field is not acceptable under any circumstances. I expect you to never be involved in anything like that.
The following tips can help you and your child Honor The Game on game-day.
Before the Game
o Tell your children you are proud of them regardless of how well they play.
o Tell them to play hard and have fun and remind them that being nervous is normal.
o Commit to Honoring the Game no matter what others do.

During the Game
o Let the coach’s coach. Avoid instructing your child (or other players).
o Fill your child’s (and teammates’) Emotional Tanks.
o Cheer good plays and good efforts by both teams.

After the Game
o Thank the officials for doing a difficult job.
o Thank the coaches for their effort.
o Remind your child that you are proud of him or her-especially if the game didn’t go well!

Finally, remember how important sports are to your children. Remember all of the valuable learning opportunities sports offer. Keep that in perspective, and there is very little that can happen during competition to upset you so much that you would mar your children’s experience. When you keep your eye on the Big Picture of all the good that can come from youth sports it is much easier to Honor the Game!

Conversation with Coaches
During a youth sports season, your children will spend more time with their coaches than with any other adults, except you, their parents. On some days, coaches’ time with your kids will even exceed your own. It’s important that you as a Positive Sport Parent have a completely open, honest, trusting relationship with your children’s coaches. Here are a few ways to help bring about a quality parent-coach partnership.
Prepare Your Children to Work Well With Coaches.
In addition to the basic manners and respect that makes for functional families and schoolrooms, remind your children that their coaches are in a unique position. Your conversation with your children might include explaining that their coaches have to work with a lot of different players and parents, and that means a lot of personality types.

Help your children understand that the best way for them to succeed as individuals and to contribute to team success is to cooperate with the coaches, pay careful attention and try their hardest at every practice and game. If your children make the coaches’ lives easier, you probably will enhance your own relationships with the coaches.

Stay Mindful of the Coaches’ Commitment.
Your children’s coaches have made a commitment that involves many hours of preparation beyond the time spent at practices and games. Quite likely in youth sports they are volunteers. Almost all are well-meaning.

It will be helpful to use those facts as a prism through which you view any issues that have you considering a corrective conversation with the coaches. Finally, if you do feel the need to approach coaches about an issue, try to imagine yourself in their place – as a volunteer – and that can help keep your communication with them respectful.
Make Early, Positive Contact with the Coach.

As soon as you know who will coach your children, contact those coaches to introduce yourself and offer any assistance you may provide. This outreach may be the single most important thing you do in establishing a true partnership, where you proactively shape a positive experience for your child and lay the foundation for respectful, productive conversations with coaches should a conflict arise later.

You may want to offer yourself as assistant coach if that is customary in the organizations where your children compete. At the same time, be prepared to accept “no” for an answer; some coaches already have assistants selected. Other roles for which you might volunteer include “team parent” (responsible for such things as coordinating carpools or snack assignments) or maintaining a team webpage and online scheduling and communications tools.

Fill the Coach’s Emotional Tank.
Too often, coaches hear only from parents who have complaints. Filling the coaches’ Emotional Tanks with specific, truthful praise positively reinforces them to continue doing the things you see as benefiting the youth athletes.

Key to this communication is “specific and truthful.” It’s common enough for parents and coaches to mill around after a game, and instead of the simple, “Great game, coach,” it can do a world of good for the coach, players and other parents to hear things like, “Coach, we were getting upset about some of the official’s calls, but when we saw how well you kept your composure, it helped us calm down, too.”

Don’t Put the Player in the Middle.
You wouldn’t complain to your children about how poorly their math teacher explains fractions, so hopefully you would avoid sharing your disapproval of a coach with your children. Doing so may force the child to take sides, and not necessarily your side!

If your child has an issue with the coach and can maturely articulate it, encourage your child to approach the coach and at the very least learn some life lessons in self-advocacy with an authority figure. Otherwise, if you disapprove of how the coach handles a situation, seek a private meeting to discuss the matter.

Ideally, such conversations would focus on big-picture concerns around your child’s ability to have an overall positive experience with the team. Playing time issues sometimes rise to that level, but in-game strategies and tactics rarely do.

If you have some expertise in the sport and think you can help your child’s coach, that’s the sort of thing you might mention in the “make-early-positive-contact” phase. But if the coach does not seem open to those sorts of suggestions, it’s best to respect that, because big-picture concerns about your child taking life lessons from sports do not hinge on the coach accepting your tactical advice.

Let Coaches Coach.
It can confuse players to hear someone other than the coach yelling out instructions. Also, your instructions may counter the coaches’ strategy and tactics, undermining team performance.

Fill Your Child’s Emotional Tank.
Competitive sports can be stressful to players. The last thing they need is your critiquing their performance…on top of what the coach may deliver and what they already are telling themselves. Let your children know you love and support them regardless of their performance.

Contribute to a Positive Environment.
Fill all the players’ Emotional Tanks when you see them doing something well. Honor the Game as a spectator, respecting ROOTS (Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self), and encourage others around you to Honor the Game.

We know this advice is not always easy to implement. There will be the occasional disagreeable official’s call or wishes for more playing time for your child. But drawing from these ideas can help you keep your child’s youth sports experience in perspective. In turn, that will help you maintain a positive parent-coach partnership, and that will help the Positive Coaches in your children’s lives serve their greatest purpose.

Courtesy ,Liberty Mutual Insurance, “They Care about Youth”

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