3 Ways to Challenge Your Athlete

By Janis Meredith | Posted 3/16/2021

There is nothing more frustrating than standing on the sidelines or sitting in the bleachers, helplessly watching your child make mistakes and play half-heartedly.

The desire that many sports parents have to challenge their young athletes to do greater things is the motivation behind much of their overbearing behaviors.

But being a positive sports parent does not mean that mom and dad must entirely remove themselves from the process of challenging their children and spurring them on to reach their potential. 

There are actually some very positive and productive ways parents can challenge their young athletes:

1.    Challenge Without Threats

Many parents resort to threats and guilt tactics to try to motivate their children to play better. They may see a short-term improvement, but in the long run, threats do not work. In fact, they can actually cause mental and emotional harm. 

Threats can actually backfire and take the fun out of sports for a child. They can also negatively affect a child’s performance. Basically, threats imply that you are anxious because you don’t believe in your child’s abilities, and that only adds to their anxiety while they play which can hurt their performance.

Your child needs to know you believe in them to play their best. Let them hear you say it and be sure that your body language says it too!

2.    Encourage Self-Competitiveness 

When your child plays to better themselves instead of beating someone else, they will be more relaxed, have more fun, and therefore perform better. 

Don’t judge their improvement by just stats or wins and losses. Stats do tell some of the story, but not all of it. Instead, encourage your child to compete against their own potential. 

All three of my young adult children are finished with college sports and are now doing Crossfit. One thing I love about that sport is that they are constantly looking to beat their own times, more than they are working to beat someone else. My daughters have both competed and they consider it a victory when they do better than they’ve ever done before, even if they didn’t win or come close to winning.

Competing against yourself will always be a challenge and it’s really the only way your child is going to continuously improve.

3.    Let Your Athlete Struggle

Sometimes challenging an athlete has more to do with what parents don’t do than it does with what they are doing.

  • Don’t rescue a child at the first sign of hardship.
  • Don’t fix an athlete’s playing time battles.
  • Don’t move an athlete to “greener pastures” in hopes of an easier time.
  • Don’t encourage a child to quit because it’s hard for them and hard for parents to see their kids frustrated.


Refusing to jump in and make things better for your athlete means they will have to figure the problem out and that is the best way I know to challenge an athlete to reach their potential.

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


USA Football's 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.