Raising assertive youth athletes

By Janis Meredith | Posted 11/8/2016

Learning to be assertive takes time and practice. Experts in child development say that when children experience growth in an area—in this case learning assertiveness—you should expect it to be followed by a time of regression. In other words, two steps forward, one step back.

So, even as you follow these suggestions, be patient with your child. Don’t think that just because he or she messes up after doing well for a while, there is no progress.

Teaching Assertiveness includes these steps:

  • Let your child take the lead at times. Let him choose which, if any, sport to play. Let her go to the coach on her own with questions regarding playing time or position.
  • Help your child move out of his comfort zone. Encourage him to try a new sport or try out for a team where he doesn’t know anyone. Prompt your child to speak up and encourage others while becoming more of a leader, even it is not initially comfortable for him.
  • Teach your child to speak up when he wants something. Does he want more playing time? Then he should discuss it with the coach. Does he want to try playing a new position, then encourage him to express that to the coach. When you ask your child if he wants to play soccer or softball and he responds by telling you he doesn’t know, encourage him to think about it and let you know. When he wants something or has an opinion, encourage him to express it, even if you may disagree.
  • Allow children to change their minds. Sometimes it’s frustrating when kids say one thing and change their minds five minutes later. However, we should allow children to change their minds. After all, you change yours, don’t you? However, it is important to remind them that promising to do something is a matter of trust and they should always strive to be a person of their word.
  • Encourage children to use “I” statements. Assertive kids take responsibility for their own opinions and feelings. Your child can say, “I felt mad when coach pulled me out of the game,” instead of blaming others for their actions and feelings. An assertive child does not make excuses or blame others for bad choices, he owns his decisions and looks for solutions to the problem.
  • Teach your child respective assertiveness. When people disagree with him, encourage him to remain calm and not act reactionary toward the other person. Help him understand that each individual opinion is just as important as everyone else’s. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong when it comes to opinions.
  • Discipline behavior, not personality. If she’s mad about her playing time and takes it out on you when she gets home from practice, then tell her you don’t like her behavior instead of calling her a brat. When you criticize her personality, you not only may make her feel that her opinion is worthless, but you are also causing her self-esteem to spiral and her assertiveness to take a hit.
  • Be a democratic household and let everyone have an opinion. Listen to the suggestions and input of your kids. Have discussions and debates at dinner. Hold family meetings. You don’t have to agree, but let them know you are hearing them. When kids know their opinions count, they are more likely to feel comfortable speaking up for themselves. The best place for your child to find his voice is at home.
  • Encourage boundaries. Assertive kids respect boundaries. They know it’s important to knock before entering another person’s room or ask to borrow a football instead of just taking it.

Provide early leadership opportunities. Research from Girl Scouts of America says a child’s confidence in speaking up and leading others dwindles by the fifth grade. Kids also say they gain that confidence by participating in activities that promote teambuilding. Youth sports is a perfect place for that!


Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called jbmthinks.com. Her new book 11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents is on Amazon.