Youth athletes can struggle with paying attention. Here's how to fix that.

By Janis Meredith | Posted 1/4/2017

By nature, kids have a limited attention span. Whether in school, at practice, or at home, they often let their minds wander away from whatever it is they are supposed to focus on. However, maturity will help them outgrow the tendency to be easily distracted.

But I want to talk about a different kind of paying attention, the kind that involves people.

When engaging in a conversation, focusing on the other person and paying attention to what they are saying is called consideration. However, practicing consideration can be difficult for children because their attention span is naturally short. Thus, if your child plays youth sports, they have an awesome opportunity to learn the virtue of paying attention to people, a trait that will help your child go far in life.

Paying attention to people means you consider how your actions affect them. Let’s break this down into a practical game plan.

Paying attention means knowing that your actions affect others

Participating in youth sports allows your child the opportunity to understand how their actions can positively and negatively affect teammates. Kids are often self-centered by nature, so they often do not understand that what they say, and how they act, will influence others.

If your child is a complainer, he could influence others to share his negativity. If your child plays selfishly, it will not only hurt the team, it will alienate and anger teammates, which can cause others to become selfish. If your child makes fun of a team member, they may think the joke is innocent fun, but those seemingly harmless jibes can be deeply hurtful to another child.

On the other hand, if your child praises a teammate for a good play, that athlete will feel good about themselves, which encourages them to continue their effective play. If your child sees another player has a better shot than he does and passes the ball, then the team is in better position to make a positive play and the team benefits. If your child shows respect to the coach, it sets an example for his teammates to follow and helps the coach do his job better.

Does your child understand that his actions will affect others?

Paying attention means you are aware of, and respect, what others like and don’t like

It’s one thing to be a people pleaser who lives for the approval of others and bases all actions on what others like. I want to be clear that this is not at all what I’m advocating because that’s not what is meant by consideration.

Being considerate means that you notice the likes and dislikes of others and when there is an opportunity, you choose a behavior that falls in line with their preferences.

How would this look for a young athlete?

Maybe your child notices that a teammate doesn’t like to be teased about something, so even as others start taunting, your child–out of consideration–doesn’t join in the chorus. Or maybe your young athlete sees that the coach struggles to unload equipment from their car and–out of consideration–offers to help.

Unfortunately, kids who show consideration to coaches or teachers are often accused of “sucking up.” A child displaying sincere consideration does not have selfish ulterior motives. Meanwhile, whether trying to get a better grade or preference from a coach, a “suck-up" almost always does.

Paying attention means you seek to understand

My kids played for coaches who they had trouble relating to and understanding what exactly they wanted. As parents, we would always advise them to try to “seek to understand” their coach and what they expect of you.

Being in tune to what makes people happy and acting on that knowledge when presented with an opportunity is what consideration is all about. It means you consider people and you care what makes others happy. It also means your child is not just selfish when it involves their own needs and wants.

What happens when your young athlete pays attention?

The noted Civil War Veteran, famous orator and American politician, Robert Ingersoll stated, "we rise by lifting others."

When your child “lifts” others by displaying consideration, he himself will rise–in character, in the eyes of others, and in his ability to positively influence.


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