5 things to do when you think your youth football player isn’t trying hard enough

By Janis Meredith | Posted 1/3/2018

For some parents, sitting and watching their children play football is a practice in self-control. Especially when you believe your child isn’t trying hard enough.

It’s easy for us as parents to critique our child’s performance and conclude that “he isn’t trying hard enough” or “he’s not giving 100 percent.”

In some cases, it may very well be true that your child isn’t really giving the best effort. But your exasperation will not solve the issue.

So how do you respond when it seems like your child isn’t really trying?

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I would suggest a few steps to help you and your child work through this.

1. Examine yourself

Even though you are looking at your child’s behavior, it’s always a wise move to start with some parental self-evaluation. What are your expectations of your child and are they realistic? What is it that bothers you about your child’s lack of effort? What is the reason that it is so important to me that my child works hard?

When you ask yourself those questions – and are totally honest about it – you might discover that part of the problem lies with you and your expectations. It’s normal for you have expectations of course; after all, you want the best for your child – but sometimes those expectations are based on what YOU want, not on what your child really wants.

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2. Listen to your child

It could be that your child’s lack of motivation is directly related to being discouraged. For whatever reason, your child is not feeling satisfaction or enjoyment and therefore does not want to try very hard.

The trick is how to find out what that something is. It’s not always as easy as asking a simple question, like “Why aren’t you trying very hard?” In fact, that type of question might frustrate your child even more because children may interpret it as you accusing them or demeaning them of something they are possibly not even aware they are doing.

This situation is the perfect time for you to exercise some parent coaching. Try asking your child some questions like, “How much do you enjoy playing this sport? What do you like best about playing it? When are some times that you don’t feel like you really want to give your best effort?”

The purpose of these questions is to get to the “why” behind your child’s seeming lack of effort. Once you recognize that the lack of trying is related to something deeper, you can begin to get to the root of the problem. Perhaps your child is simply not interested in the sport any longer. Perhaps your child is feeling burned out. Sometimes, children feel they can’t please the coach or you or their teammates. Sometimes they really are trying their hardest and you are merely misreading them.

If your child doesn’t want to talk the first time you try this, don’t give up. You may have to wait for a better time. This type of parenting cannot be rushed, and that’s very frustrating for parents like me, who like to fix things right away! We think if we just “have a talk,” we can resolve the situation in one sitting. It usually takes time and patience, understanding and the ability to listen to verbal and nonverbal cues.

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3. Focus on strengths

Maybe your child just needs a little encouragement, a little reinforcement that the effort really does matter. The “push” you can give children is to focus on what they are doing right and praise that, instead of being obsessed with the lack of effort you perceive. If you are only talking about what children are not doing, they may feel that no matter what, they can’t please you or anyone, so what’s the point? Try focusing on celebrating the little victories and see if that doesn’t push your child to try a little harder.

4. Be available

If children ask for your help, or if in your conversations it comes out that they want help, then be ready with some ideas. Do they want you to help them work on their skills? Do they need some private coaching or perhaps a mentor in the sport?

When our kids approached us, asking for assistance, we did everything we could to help them. But they had to want it first. If your child is hungry for growth and wants to improve, then jump on it! Be available to offer the help they need and want. It doesn’t have to be costly, but it might have to be creative on your part.

5. Let it go

Quite honestly, that is the last thing that most sports parents want to hear. But after you’ve had the conversations, asked the coaching questions, listened, and provided help when they asked, the only thing left for you to do is let it go.

Let children play and enjoy the sport on their own terms. For some kids, that means just having a good time and not really having great ambitions in the sport. If that’s what your child wants out of youth sports, then for goodness sake, let that be it. Every child is not destined for a long-term career in sports. Some kids just want to enjoy the sport.

For others, it means having to learn the tough lessons of working hard for results, if they desire to improve their performance.

Either way, your best bet in helping your child if you are frustrated with their “lack of effort” is to support and encourage them along the journey.

Janis B. Meredith is a life coach for sports parents. 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.