Does your child play for a coach who likes to play head games?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 10/26/2015

Mental toughness is as much a part of sports as the physical side of competition. This includes the ability to focus, move past mistakes and persist through adversity.

After raising three kids who played sports through college, I’ll add that the mental game also includes mind games – or “head games” – played by coaches or teammates.

When I say head games, I’m talking about tactics used to motivate or get something out of a player. Coaches may mess with your child’s head in an attempt to motivate him because they think encouragement or instruction isn’t producing the results they want.

They may tease, threaten or put down a player to push him to work harder.

And yes, unfortunately, this even happens at the youth level.

Does your child have a coach who plays head games? If so, work with your young athlete to overcome this challenge and improve as a player:

  • Stay focused on the job. How he is progressing, and does what he needs to do to improve?
  • Stay focused on the game. Don’t think about stats or whether he is playing better than someone else. Play your best and let the rest take care of itself.
  • Seek to understand. Recognize the coach’s game plan and strategy, but don’t become obsessed with trying to figure him out.

My daughter had a volleyball coach who pulled her from her starting libero spot just before the season started. He put another girl in to start and told my daughter he was trying to light a fire under her butt.

Some may say that’s playing head games. Others would say he was trying to motivate her.

When my daughter came home, she was angry and crying, I told her she had two choices: Give up or fight for her spot.

That’s a message a high school athlete can understand. For an 8- or 10-year-old, though, that might be beyond their mental maturity, and you would need to take a more supportive approach.

My daughter chose to fight. She set out to prove to her coach that she deserved the position. She ignored the mind games he was playing and focused on her own performance.

Some would say that the coach’s mind game worked. Maybe so. My daughter kept her starting spot the rest of the season. But only because she didn’t let the coach’s head games defeat her.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.