6 ways to teach your athlete to be independent

By Janis Meredith | Posted 9/18/2017

As parents, we struggle with how much independence to teach our kids. We want to be involved in their lives and that often keeps us from giving them the space to become autonomous.

How can you teach your young athlete to be independent? Here are several ways.

Give them responsibility

Make sure your child has clearly defined jobs and understands the consequences for not doing them. Wash their own uniform, keep track of their own equipment, and making sure they get to practice on time.

Give them an understanding of failure

No one likes to admit when they're wrong, but your child needs to understand that owning up to their mistakes allows them to learn and grow. Sports are a mistake-ridden environment, but that’s okay because failure is one of life's biggest teachers; when you rush in to protect your child from it, you are taking away another chance for your child to develop character and strength.

Give them a reason for conviction

Help your child see that it’s okay to peacefully disagree with someone. Encourage your child to stand up for what’s right on their team, instead of cowering to the opinions of peers. That’s a tough one, I know; peer pressure is strong for kids. But you can teach them values that are worth fighting for.

Give them your trust in their opinions

Let your child express opinions and make decisions without immediately jumping on them if you disagree. At first, the choices will be inconsequential, like what outfit to wear or what toy to play with. But as they grow, so will the decisions: what college should he attend, who should they date, or what sports should they play? Listening without judgment doesn’t mean you never give guidance or express your concerns, it just means that you don’t override their opinions.

Give them free time

Don’t be so quick to fill every minute of your child’s schedule with sports and other activities. Boredom can provide amazing opportunities for a child to reach within themselves and find solutions. If you are always stepping in with boredom-buster ideas, you will rob your child of many opportunities to grow.

Give him places to step out of his comfort zones

Encourage your child to seek and explore. When they are older and more secure, nudge them out of their comfort zones; this will allow them to test their own capabilities and grow in independence.

Independence takes practice

“Every child needs to practice being independent,” says Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy. “And every parent needs to practice letting a child be independent. If you believe that your job is to raise your children so they will be ready to leave you, you need to be able to let them go and watch from a distance.”

Janis B. Meredith is a sportsparenting 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.