How to become a great sports parent and build
mental toughness in your youth athlete.
“Mental Toughness is all about playing focused,
confident, determined and resilient especially
When Craig first started working with young
athletes to improve their sports performance, he
was sure he was going to be seeing robo-kids
like the NFL football player, Todd Marinovich. He
expected them to be coming in, dragged by the
ear by their parents, who were interested in
making millions or getting them a top college
Happily, it turned out to be wrong! Distinctly, he
remembers one of the parents saying, “Craig,
I don’t care if she wants to be a gold medalist.
I don’t care if she wants to quit. I just want her to
be happy again. Can you help?”
The vast majority of parents come in with the
same mindset. This was the inspiration for him
developing the Mental Toughness Training
programs, to help kids love playing their sport
Performance = Potential – Interference
What we see time and time again is when the
athlete eliminates the interference, their
What most young athletes don’t know yet, is that
their winning performance happens when they
eliminate the interference followed by the selfconfidence
that comes with the power of playing
to their potential. It is not the other way around!
This is the basis of Craig’s entire work.
Performance = Potential – Interference is the
formula we begin with. The athlete builds Mental
Toughness by destroying their interference with
our R.A.C.E. formula. This is the core of what is
taught in the Mental Toughness Training
programs. To find out more, go to
To be a great sport’s parent you will need to be
their role model, sounding board, and a loving
presence. Yep, it is just like regular parenting! As
a sports parent something that is often
overlooked is that we can either help to reduce
their interference and increase their
performance or can actually be a source of their
interference which destroys performance. These
10 Commandments can help you to be that
great sports parent and reduce your athlete’s
For simplicity, I’m just going to use the pronouns
“she” and “her” to refer to all young athletes. You
can make the mental switch, when reading this
for your young man.
Lets Do This…
1. Show and communicate unconditional love,
regardless of performance.
Most of us parents assume all the driving,
attending games, cheering and spending huge
sums of money should be enough to send the
message of unconditional love and support to our
kids, but to a kid it isn’t enough.
An important opportunity to show your support is
when your child doesn’t perform well for
whatever reason. It is critical, especially at this
time, to connect with them and act like the proud
parent you are. However, notice the subtle way
you may express disappointment or disapproval
– you may not be aware of how you’re coming
across. Kids unconsciously pick up on this with
their highly-sensitive radar system that is trained
on you. Let your athlete guide the conversation
after the competition, with you holding the
intention “you are proud of them no matter what”
in your mind.
Notice – do you talk more when she wins than
when she loses? Do your facial expressions or
your routine to stop for a treat on the way home
change depending on win or lose?
If your child senses your disappointment in her
performance in any way, then she is likely to put
more pressure on herself the next time. Her need
to please you, may be the very thing that hurts
her performance in the future!
You want to send the message, she is the same
person, win or lose, whether her performance
was good or bad. It is critical that kids know their
self worth is not tied to winning or losing or a
good or bad performance and it is fundamental
to building Mental Toughness.
2. Create a safe environment for talking.
Sports gives parents and children
a golden opportunity to connect in
ways they might not otherwise.
You can encourage this
connection and openness and it
will give you an opening into her
life in ways you never had before.
The way to start is to let your
athlete know you will not judge
her no matter what she says about
her sport and her participation in it.
You will find kids are usually more
open to talking to you about their
sport and their frustrations than
any other area of their life. It can
give you the “IN” to helping them in all the other
areas as well.
The last thing you want is a child who tells you
what she thinks you want to hear, clams up… or
worse does not tell you the truth. This can cause
an internal conflict in your child and definitely
adds to her interference.
So what is the best way to communicate? By
listening…really listening. That means, don’t
interrupt her or offer advice. The best way to
show you are listening is to repeat or rephrase
what you heard . Don’t say, “I know how you
feel,” rather say, “I hear you” or
“I understand what you’re saying.”
You could then ask if she would
like your advice. If she says “no”
you HAVE to back off and respect
her request. If you do this, then
she will be much more likely to say
yes the next time, because she
The hard part for you will be when
your athlete says something you
know darn well is not true or she is
having an obscured perception.
You are going to be tempted to
respond with your TRUTH or telling her she’s
being ridiculous. Many times this will lose her
trust and willingness to be open with you. You are
going to have to take a deep breath and decide
whether or not it is really worth it to “correct” her.
If you do, and the “correction” and your “judgment”
of her false idea is not welcome, you risk
closing the communication door.
She will listen and absorb your advice best, when
the doors of communication are open. You will
have to let go of your ego and “better judgment”
at times to do so.
Here is a quick dialog to illustrate my point:
Katie: “The other players hate me”
Parent: “Oh, tell me about that”
Katie: “Well, the other girls don’t like me, because
they don’t like the way I sometimes speak up in
Parent: “Hmmmm….Having the courage to
speak up and then have the other girls be disrespectful
to you must be difficult. “ Wait and listen
for a response.
After taking a deep breath you could say “I’m
here to help in any way I can and I’d be glad to
give you my thoughts if you want them.”
Ideally we want our kids to learn to solve these
types of problem on their own. They will do
so more often if they are secure in the knowledge
that they have you as their emotional sounding
board. This builds confidence and self-efficacy.
On a final note, the worst time, although the most
tempting time to give your kids advice is on the
way home from a game! Don’t do it unless they
ask for it.
3. Offer advice only with permission.
What does that mean? Coming to an agreement
or compromise on the rules of engagement between
the parties involved. If you are a parent
who rules with authoritarian directives, this may
be tough for you, when it comes to your child and
sports. I’m not here to tell you how to do your
parenting, but to delve deeper into what you just
learned in Commandment #2 – Create a safe
environment for talking.
To have an even more powerful impact and influence
on your child, you need to get their permission
to give them guidance. You may be saying
“no way, no how”, but I think it is important to
keep in mind that your child’s participation in
sports is optional. Yes, I know that some parents
require a child to participate in “something,” but if
the child isn’t into the sport and you force them,
they may ultimately learn things that hurt their
confidence and their self-esteem.
Giving corrective advice after a loss, mistake or
poor performance is the worst time for you to
chime in with how they could have done it better.
Instead, wait for her to be in a good mood. The
great thing about this is, you will be asking for
permission at the perfect time when you are most
likely to get a “yes”.
How might you do this? Very simply … the
conversation could go something like this:
Parent: “So Katie, you know, I just want to tell you
that I felt so proud and happy watching you from
the stands last week. I love seeing you compete
and participate and how you were such a good
Katie: “Thanks Dad.”
Parent: “I wonder if I could ask you something
about your (sport)?
Katie: “What’s that?”
Parent: “Well, you know that I want you to do well
Katie: “Uh, I guess”
Parent: “I wanted to know if you would ever want
me to give you help or advice on your game or
would you rather me just cheer you on and let the
coaches do that?”
If Katie says “No” then you need to respect that at
least for the time being. Chances are, even if she
says no, she will still come to you and ask you for
advice at times in the future. You could leave that
door open by offering something like:
Parent: “Ok, well, if you ever DO want my advice,
I’m here for you and will be glad to offer it, but I
will wait for you to ask for it.”
If Katie says, “Yes” then the next thing you should
ask is “When would be the best times for me to
give it to you?”
You, of course, could just bypass this whole
“permission thing” and go on giving unsolicited
advice, but your brilliance is much more likely to
sink in when SHE opens the doorway to it. You’ve
got to let go of your ego to do this. Trust me, most
kids will want your advice eventually and she will
feel very loved if you honor her wishes. That will
build her confidence!
4. Talk honestly and teach reality.
Ok, you’ve done well in
keeping the communication
lines open and you only offer
advice when asked. Great job!
You might still slip into
“teaching” and “advice” mode
at times, but your athlete will
probably give you some slack
for having respected her
When you do give advice, I really believe you
should do your best to give your athlete your true
perspective and do not sugar coat things.
We have worked with kids as young as 7 years
old and believe me, they CAN handle the truth.
Give them the truth about what it takes to
become a gold medalist or professional in their
sport. Provide them with stories (I can provide
you with stories if you need some of what those
at the top of their sport have done to get there.
Tell her OFTEN you believe she can do anything
she sets her mind to do.
Let them know the reality though, that only about
1% of high school athletes get a college scholarship.
Tell her it’s OK if she wants to play her sport
just for the fun of it, to hang out with friends, and
you support her in that as well.
You also need to tell her the truth about how
things are not always “fair” in life in a way that
matches HER perception of
the world, not yours. Like times
when she gets chewed out by
her coach and takes it
personally. She may not
understand the underlying
reasons why her coach may be
acting like such a jerk. Explain
to her: “Both parents and
coaches have their own
personal issues that cause them to act irrational
at times and it has nothing to do with you.”
This has been very valuable in my experience of
working with kids in my office. I find I need to
remind them of this concept often and this is how
we protect our child’s confidence. You do not
want her to get the wrong idea that something is
wrong with her, because her coach ripped a strip
off of her. Coaches are humans and sometimes
bring their own “stuff” to their coaching.
Let’s face it, you too may get emotional and lose
it at times. It would be in your child’s best interest
for you to come clean when this happens and
apologize. Scary, I know. Tell her, “It has nothing
to do with you.” Kids really get this and
So let them know that playing sports is both fair
and unfair at different times. A bad call, team
politics, who gets to start or who is first string
can feel very unfair and is all just part of playing
sports. On the other hand, playing sports can be
the most “fair” thing we humans get judged on,
because there are numbers and stats to look at
at the end of the day. Your merits show through
and are rewarded better than most any other
areas of achievement. Numbers don’t lie and
that’s a good thing for fairness!
On a final note, make sure you think before you
speak and ask yourself “how can I give my child
the most realistic and empowering perspective on
what she’s experiencing right now?” Filter all your
conversations through that and you will just naturally
say the right things and be amazed as you
watch her grow as a person and an athlete.
5. Prepare your athlete for difficulty.
It is so much easier to have a profound influence
on your young athlete, if you do it proactively
instead of after-the-fact. Since you are now in a
great position of open communication, you want
to take every opportunity you can to introduce
and prepare her for tough situations like losing,
sitting on the bench, not making the team, not
getting a scholarship, needing to go back to the
basics, choking in a clutch situation, etc.
You need to bring these up before they happen,
while at the same time not suggesting they will
happen. You can do this by talking about OTHER
people who have experienced these issues and
how they overcame or solved the problem.
Use the tools I’ve taught you to get across these
ideas with the perspective they are the same
person, win or lose. Don’t wait until they actually
lose the big game or make a huge error to have
this discussion. Life is not all roses and trophies
and the kids that are prepared for difficult
experiences will thrive with these lessons firmly
implanted in their minds. The real beauty is that
they will also use these lessons in other areas of
their life as well.
Use age-appropriate language, stories and your
intuition to guide you on what you think your child
is ready to hear. Remind her that part of Mental
Toughness is mental preparation and practice.
You want to show her how to prepare for difficult
situations in her mind, before they happen. This
way she can come out on top by knowing what to
do and how to act if and when it does happen.
Total preparedness comes from practicing
mental skills, just like practicing physical skills, in
Champions, in fact all elite athletes, win in
6. Focus on the positive and repeat it often.
When I first got into Mental Toughness training
and learned about how we as parents have such
a tremendous influence over our kids, I had an
“uh oh” moment. I looked back at how I had
been coaching and parenting, what I had said
and taught my two boys. I started to get a little
worried about what they had learned from me
that I may not have been aware of.
I remember back in my young athlete days and
my parents always telling me that “All you need
to do is the best you can do, always give 100%.”
I can still hear that voice in my head.
Were my parents perfect parents? Definitetly not,
but that one lesson of doing the best you can do
and always give 100% far outweighed anything
they may have done that was not so great as a
parent. It has carried through to every aspect of
my life today. I encourage you to have a “theme”
or an idea that you put a lot of emphasis on for
your child that is totally empowering and works
with your family’s values.
For example, there was an article about the
Manning family. Archie Manning brought up 2
successful NFL Super Bowl quarterbacks and
Archie himself was an NFL quarterback in the
80’s. He taught his boys over and over that they
should feel lucky they were brothers and to
cherish that connection and support. To this day,
they both point to that as their secret to success.
The main take away point is to be consistent with
a positive message. Bring this up at any time with
your child, with or without permission, often and
everywhere. Even if she rolls her eyes when you
mention it for the 100th time.
You are going to make mistakes as a parent.
Accept that and get on with the job of preparing
your child for this game of life by always bringing
your guidance back to the powerful, positive
message that you stand for.
You can borrow mine or come up with your own
positive value or values. When your child
reflects that statement or value back to you in
her words or actions, make it a point to
NOTICE it. Tell her how proud you are and how
great that makes you feel to witness her living
Get creative in finding ways to keep her
thinking positive and focused. Kids will learn the
habit of focusing on the positive and you are
just the person to show them how to do it.
7. Model the behavior you want to see in
your young athlete.
We have all been told not to scream out
instructions from the stands or yell at coaches or
officials at games, right?
If you didn’t know it, for young athletes this is as
embarrassing as being seen with you at the mall.
I have been guilty of yelling advice to my sons
from the stands or the dugout in the past. Trust
me, it does no good and usually hurts rather than
help their performance.
But let’s take this a step further. If your daughter
sees you cheering on her teammates, she is
more likely to do that herself. If she witnesses a
level-headed conversation with her coach, she is
more likely to follow your lead there too. I believe
this commandment is actually one of the most
powerful ones I teach. Kids learn as much from
you by your actions than by what you say…
One of the best actions you can model is
calmness in the face of pressure. In dealing
with young athletes, probably the most common
issue is being anxious before and during an
event. Imagine how powerful it would be for your
child to watch you in the stands acting calm and
collected, when every other parent is screaming
at a bad call. What are you like, right before a
game or while packing for a travel tournament?
Model want you want them to learn.
This doesn’t begin or end on the field or court
either. How you react to tough situations at home
will go a long way toward how your athlete
handles difficulty. Sport is a fabulous place to
practice how they will deal with adversity in real
life and showing her is 10 times more powerful
than telling her.
Most importantly, kids need to develop ways of
dealing with their difficult emotions and if you
wait until they are in the midst of experiencing
one, it is usually too late. This is a big part of the
Emotional Mastery Process taught in the
R.A.C.E. Formula that empowers teens to feel in
control of their lives.
8. How to deal with the coach issue.
Now that you’ve got some of the fundamentals
down, you’re ready for the nitty gritty of being a
great sports parent. There are some excellent
coaches out there and some not-so-good ones
and it will always be like that. Generally, kids look
up to their coach as they do to you and so they
easily get disappointed when the coach shows
she’s human. Your job is to assist your young
athlete to come up with an understanding of her
coach’s actions that build her self-confidence.
This can be difficult when your child has gone
beyond reasonable thinking and is stewing, stuck,
or wallowing in difficult emotions. At this point it is
hard to have any effect. The best tactic is defense
When the time is right and you have good
rapport, engage her in a conversation about her
best and worst coaches.
The easiest ways to get your child talking is to:
1. Keep asking open-ended questions that cannot
be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
2. Use a technique that I call “Qtone.” You will
repeat the last couple words or last word of their
sentence and you put a questioning tone on the
end. That gives them a subconscious cue to keep
talking and they do!
Qtone works like this:
Katie: “The coach should be starting Jane instead
Parent: “Instead of Mary?”
Katie: “Well yeah, Mary is OK I guess, but Jane is
so much more reliable out there.”
Parent: “More reliable.”
Katie: “Yep, Jane is always the one who makes
the play and keeps us in the game.”
Parent: “Keeps you in the game?”
You get the picture? You can keep a conversation
going for a long time by doing just this. Sometimes,
there will be an uncomfortable pause.
That’s OK, just observe how she handles it and
use your common sense when you think it best to
change it up.
Once you get her talking, then slip in some useful
perspectives, but do everything you can to get
your child to think that she came up with the idea.
This kind of conversation will “imply” permission if
you do it right!
Craig once had a 12-year-old athlete tell him
about his coach and how he hated him. Craig
said: “Hate him?” and of course, he kept the story
going. And then, at one point, he said: “I wonder if
this coach might be the best thing that could
happen to you.”
He thought Craig was crazy and wanted to know
what he meant. Craig said, “Well, this coach got
you to come into my office so you can learn
mental toughness right? What if you had breezed
through for 4 more years and then got a tough
coach who didn’t see your talent? What if right
before the big game you were so rattled you
choked, right when scouts were there to watch
you? Good thing you are getting this Mental
Toughness Training now!”
He was floored but it really opened up his mind.
From then on he was really ready to work on his
Mental Toughness. Again, this is reducing
interference and increasing performance.
I want to cap this section off with a simple rule for
dealing with coaches. Talk to the coach like you
would talk to one of your child’s respected teachers
or counselors. Assume that the coach is a
reasonable person and is just doing her best
(while understanding she has her own personal
issues and biases that she brings to the table, just
like you). Speak directly, politely and respectfully
and if that doesn’t work, find another coach or
program or league if you have to.
I have worked with, talked to and been the coach
to know this… you aren’t going to get anywhere
in influencing a coach by being a pain-in-the-butt
parent. That plan never works; just ask any
coach. Definitely be an advocate for your child,
just do it in a way that they will hear and want to
work with you.
Now we get to the fun part! A great sports parent
doesn’t just teach and advocate for their athlete…
a great sports parent is her biggest cheerleader
9. Encourage competition without pressure.
For the life of me, I don’t understand where some
parents get the idea that berating their kid for a
poor performance is going to make them a
tougher or better player, much less a stronger
human being. It doesn’t.
You always can and should find something
positive to say to your child no matter the
Here are a few starters for you: “I believe in you.”
“I am so proud of you.” “I felt so happy/excited
watching you compete.” “You are just an
awesome kid/player/son/daughter.” Cheer as
loud as you can, when your kid does well or her
teammates do well. Constantly keep pumping
them up, especially when they aren’t doing well.
You, of course, want to encourage her
competitiveness and that being competitive is
awesome. The great thing about competition is
that it gets you to FEEL things and that is why we
do anything! But the big caveat here is that you
DO NOT want to put any more pressure on her to
Yes, of course, winning is good and the pursuit of
winning is also good. That’s where it should end
though. If winning becomes the main reason for
playing and competing, that is when the pressure
starts and can lead to all kinds of interference.
You want your athlete to play for the fun of the
competition… not just to win, right? If the
fundamental joy of playing the game is not there,
they will not have the spirit to practice and
compete for the long haul. You can’t force that!
Ask your athlete why they play the sport and
what they like about it. Before the game, remind
her of those things and that the nervousness is
just really her excitement. In fact, if you think
about it, you get the same heart racing, the same
tension, or heat in the extremities. Help her
realize it is only her thoughts about those bodily
sensations that are difficult or make it difficult to
perform. Assure your child that getting nervous is
normal; everyone gets nervous before a game.
Feeling nervous AND playing to you potential is
possible with our Mental Toughness Training.
Lots of kids get the idea they HAVE to win or
MUST perform well or they will face rejection or
disapproval. This can create intense pressure is a
critical concept that your child will blast through in
my Mental Toughness Training.
You though, can be the best person in your child’s
life to teach her how to eliminate that pressure.
You could tell stories of your own experiences
feeling anxious about competition and pushing
through it and being so glad you did. If you need
stories to tell, I can send you stories of worldclass
athletes, who themselves, have overcome
great odds and adversity and then went on to win.
Another way is to go and have some fun WITH
your athlete playing her sport with her. Let her
teach YOU how to do some moves. Model for her
having fun by doing it yourself!
One final thing… Unless you’ve been living in a
closet, you know that there is such a thing as
Home Field Advantage. Yes, IT’S REAL and it
exists at the highest levels of sport. I could write a
chapter on this alone, but basically, it’s all about
the energy you send to your child and her team.
Send that energy as a positive intention you hold
for her as often as you can! Give her the home
field advantage even as a visitor.
10. Guide your athlete to bigger thinking.
Once you have established a good
communicative relationship with your teen, you
can move her to the next level of Mental
Toughness by putting sports participation into a
Having worked with hundreds of young athletes,
we’ve noticed some all too common, limiting
thinking patterns. Many of these patterns come
from youth having a very narrow perspective of
the world and from what most teens consider
important… i.e., their friends, fitting in, their sport,
school, social media, and keeping parents happy.
To create a mentally tough attitude and more
importantly a healthy, happy adult, they need you
to help them expand their world perspective. With
your perspective and larger picture of the world, it
diminishes the importance of any one game or
event and the disappointments and frustrations
they may experience.
I’d like you to consider the differences between
the way a child looks at their life and the way you
do for a moment. Values like: sacrifice, delayed
gratification, accountability, patience and
responsibility could be at the top of the list that
you might want to instill in your child and sports is
the perfect vehicle to make that happen.
What you need to remember is your child is in the
process of turning into an adult. Like most teens,
they cannot wait to grow up, to have the freedom
to go where they want and not to be told what
they can and can’t do. Use this desire! It can be
your ticket to getting your teen to start thinking
bigger, longer term, and have a wider perspective
of the world, all of which she will need as she enters
the competitive adult world. Tie together your
wanting her to learn maturity, her desire to gain
the freedoms of an adult and her sport as the
teaching example and you can make magic
You could start off with easy questions like: “How
do you think this one upcoming game will affect
your sporting career? Your choice of college?Your
vocation? See if you can get her to admit that
one game or one choke on the court means
nothing in the grander scheme of life.
In my coaching sessions with teens, I have been
subtlety injecting broader perspective questions
into my mental toughness training with surprising
results. I do this by, once again, asking questions.
I might ask them, “What do you think your purpose
in life is?” “What do you want your life to
look like after high school and college?” If they
say “I don’t know”, then I come back with a
question like “If you did know, what would it be?”
The key is not to say things like: “It’s time for you
to grow up” or “You need to man up” or “I want
you to take some responsibility.” If you were to
say those phrases out loud to yourself and listen,
you would realize they would not make you want
to open up or listen.
Once you get the conversation going, tie in her
sports participation to some of these bigger
thoughts and let the seeds take root in her mind.
You definitely just want to ask questions and not
judge any of her answers. Remember, the point is
to assist her in thinking more like an adult, in her
sport and in life.
I know you can take it from here. The goal is to
create a shift in their thinking. A shift that will
open the door to her thinking about ideas and
things bigger than herself. This kind of thinking
changes the way the mind operates and makes
their dreams a reality. It fuels motivation to succeed
beyond what they think they are capable of.
It’s the stuff of champions…
Everyone who goes through my programs and
processes gets this kind of guidance and teaching
from me. I would love to see you and your
young athlete join me on
SportsMentalToughness.ca for more on Mental
We offer a cutting edge of Mental Toughness
Training that will help boost your child’s
athletic performance, skyrocket their
confidence, eliminate their fears and give
them powerful life skills!
Performance = Potential – Interference
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