How to Foster Independence in Young Athletes
Love of the game isn’t the only reason young athletes play their selected sports. At least that’s not the sole explanation for their parents’ support of their rigorous training schedule and travel needs. Another goal is to see the young person learning to collaborate, gain confidence, and think independently. These several strategies can help parents and coaches know how to foster independence in young athletes.
What’s to be Gained
Almost any sport offers similar advantages to the children and young adults who invest their time and effort in learning to play. These benefits include:
• Forming new friendships
• Developing responsibility
• Strengthening self-reliance
• Instilling accountability
• Providing sense of belonging.
So, we’re all in agreement that athletics represent a great opportunity for a young person to learn to work with others, that practice can pay off, and that if they keep trying they can achieve success. But, how do we help foster the independence young soccer players need to truly benefit from all this beautiful game has to offer? You might try these strategies.
Tips to Help Foster Independence
#1 Encourage ownership. Setting goals and having high expectations can help motivate a young soccer player. However, if the athlete himself isn’t setting the goals or establishing the standards, this is an example of extrinsic motivation. We’re gunning for intrinsic motivation here:
• Take a step back and let your athlete claim the field for himself
• Encourage him to ask respectful questions of the coach directly
• Celebrate risk taking and embracing challenge (even if it results in getting beaten).
#2 Provide options. Supporting your player’s decision-making by giving them room to make their own choices can help him to become more responsible. Depending on the child’s age, you might limit the options you offer, so the various choices don’t become overwhelming. Nevertheless, aim to let the child lead any discussion of the possibilities and offer guidance or advice only when asked to do so. By providing options, you are helping to teach them that they have control over results in their lives.
#3 Show confidence. You don’t want to just be an overly optimistic cheerleader inflating the player’s ego. However, speaking specifically about the child’s strengths and commending them on their development of certain skills can help them to develop independently of you.
#4 Outline responsibilities. Sometimes it can be difficult to draw a line between being a friend to the player and being a parent or coach. Yet teaching the young athlete about responsibility is essential to their gaining confidence and building independence. One approach is to actually make a list together of the responsibilities you will each take on with regards to the sport. E.g. a parent might be responsible for taking the child to games (until the child is of age to drive) but the player is responsible for making sure all the pieces of his uniform are on his body or in the car when it’s time to go. (We’ll let you decide who gets the laundry duty).
#5 Add consequences. Demanding accountability is important. There should be consequences for not fulfilling responsibilities. At the same time, discourage your young athlete from rationalizing bad behavior or scapegoating others. To be independent, the young athlete needs to be held responsible for his actions and his failures. Blaming others (the ref? ) is easy, but you might remind them if it’s bad luck or a bad call that prompts mistakes or failures, then it must be good luck or great calls that lead to their successes. The athlete is unlikely to want to let someone else take responsibility for their achievements, so this can help them to see the importance of accountability.
#6 Make them feel safe. Note, however, there is a “fine line between security and dependence.” As you foster the athlete’s sense of competence and independence you will want to push them to explore further and take greater risks. You can continue to offer a secure space to return to, and protection when needed, but for young athletes to truly become independent you’re going to need to push those baby birds out of the nest and let them see how well they can soar on their own