8 Constructive Ways to Push Your Child in Youth Sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 11/2/2020

The desire to see your child do well is usually what motivates sports parents to start pushing. No mom or dad enjoys seeing a child sit too long on the bench or play below his or her potential in the game. Watching your child give a half-hearted effort is frustrating. Whether it’s in school, sports, or chores, parents are always looking for answers on how to help their kids “try harder.”

There is no quick fix for motivation, but the first step is to recognize that a lack of motivation is probably related to the fact that your child is either discouraged or is not enjoying the sport. Once you recognize that their lack of trying is related to something deeper, you can begin to get to the root of the problem and start pushing your child in positive ways.

Not all pushing is bad. In fact, I would say that positive pushing can be very beneficial for your child. The difference between positive pushing and the negative pushing that parents tend to resort to in frustration is huge.

Negative pushing uses comparison, bribery, shaming, and nagging. 

Positive pushing or constructive pushing looks much different: Here’s how you can “push” in a positive way:

Ask the right question after practices or games. How did practice go? How did you feel about your game tonight? One or two questions show your interest, while too many can feel like you are pressuring your athlete.

Offer opportunities for your child to work outside of practice. If they say no, bring it up at another time when they are ready to work on improving.

Be at as many games as you can. It communicates your support and may encourage self-pushing. 

Offer praise for hard work. It communicates support without attaching your love to their performance.

Let them enjoy their good games, points scored and games won. When hard work pays off, they will be motivated to push themselves.

Don’t let your anxiety push them. That will motivate them to perform just to make you happy and it only teaches them how to appease you. It distracts them from finding internal motivation.

Let your child make their own choices. If it’s a poor choice, let them face natural consequences. This is probably one of the most powerful teachers of all. If your child doesn’t get much playing time because they choose to be lazy in practice, then so be it. But if your child works hard and reaps the benefits, it motivates them to keep working hard.

Ask your child the right questions. What do you really want? What is your goal in this sport? What makes you want to work harder? And when they talk, be sure you are listening. Respect their answers, even if you don’t like them. Allowing them to have their own goals and desires builds their confidence which is a big motivator for them to do their best as they play.

Whatever you do, don’t blame yourself for your child’s lack of motivation. Their athletic performance does not define you. Their success does not make you a super-parent and their mistakes should not make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.

Instead, zoom out. See your child as their own person and strive to understand what they really want and need. Remember this: Positive pushing is more of an art form, not an exact science.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.


USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.