4 ways to help your child keep mental focus in youth sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 8/28/2017

Does your child ever struggle with mental focus during a game? With young children, the attention span is understandably short, and that’s why sports for small kids must be packed full of fun.

But once your child has been playing for a while and has started working on developing skills through repetition and hard work, mental focus becomes an important skill as children strive to take their games to the next level.

What distracts your children? What causes them to lose focus in a game? There’s a lot going on at youth sports events:

  • parents yelling
  • teammates joking
  • coaches instructing
  • sun in your child’s eyes
  • frustration at mistakes by your child or a teammate
  • heckling by opponents
  • fear of failure

How can you help your child learn to focus while playing youth sports?

1. Keep the fun in sports

Let’s start with the obvious: FUN.

The more fun an athlete is having, the more they will learn and the better they will perform. Fun must be present for peak performance from youth to professional sports. When a child stops having fun and begins to dread practice or competition, it’s time for you as a parent to ask some hard questions. If children don’t enjoy what they’re doing, they will lose focus.

2. Remind your child to compete against himself

When athletes learn to challenge themselves and pay more attention to their own performance than they do to their opponents’ performance, they will find it easier to focus. When children play to better themselves instead of beating someone else, they will be more relaxed, have more fun and undoubtedly perform better.

3. Help your child emphasize process, not outcome

Focusing on the outcome is a big distraction when it causes an athlete to skip over the process. In any peak performance, the athlete is oblivious to outcome and is absorbed in the moment of the game. An outcome focus will distract and tighten up the athlete, resulting in a bad performance.

4. Teach centering techniques

Centering techniques focus on breathing. When I was pregnant, I went to Lamaze classes where I learned breathing techniques that would help me focus and endure the pain of childbirth. Although breathing didn’t dull the pain, it did help me get through the labor experience with some sense of control.

Help your children learn the importance of simply breathing in and out deeply, counting if they wish. Practice with them away from sports on breathing at a slow, steady pace. It may even help your children to have a key word to repeat as they breathe, such as “relax” or “steady.”

This centering technique can reduce anxiety and distractions when your child needs it most. Practice it with your child at home, away from competition.

Janis B. Meredith is a sports parenting blogger, podcaster, and life coach. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about good sports parenting habits in her book, 11 Habits for Happy & Positive Sports Parents, available on Amazon.