SPAC would like to thank Dr. Smoll for his inspiring talk at tonight’s SPAC parent meeting. Dr. Smoll a leading educator and psychologist at the University of Washington discussed ways that we as parents can help to foster successful, healthy, happy youth athletes through the Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports. For those of you who missed it, I’m including some of the night’s highlights, along with guidelines for good parent approach, and a link to a video available for purchase.

The Mastery Approach emphasizes a developmentally appropriate model for youth athletes. This model emphasizes youth athletics as an arena for learning that focuses on effort and physical and psycho-social development. For professional athletes it makes sense that we emphasize the product – WINNING. Professional sports are a commercial and entertainment enterprise where this is appropriate. However the goals of youth sports want to emphasize life long learning including, enjoyment, self esteem, physical fitness, and sportsmanship. And although every parent and ever kid wants to have success and to win, we must be careful not to professionalize youth sports.

“Don’t put the goal of winning in front of the welfare of our kids.”  Remember that less than 2% of high school athletes get a college scholarship, and a minuscule 1 in 12,000 have a shot at the pros. So let’s set our goals appropriately for our athletes.

Research has shown that a Mastery orientation to sports in which success is based on effort and preparation and on improving and mastering skills results in athletes who work harder, are more persistent, have lower anxiety, increased enjoyment, increased self esteem, and are better sports. Studies show that a mastery approach decreases attrition from 35% to 5%, and in case you still care about winning (which no one is suggesting you shouldn’t) ultimately results in more wins.

How to create a mastery climate and a healthy philosophy of winning?

  • Define success as the process of striving – Athletes have 100% control over their effort. Make sure they understand that doing their best is way more important than being the best. Discuss effort. Notice effort. Praise effort.
  • Participate in your athletes success. Be present when ever possible. Be positive and supportive
  • Trust the coach – remember they are the boss. Treat coaches with utmost respect and courtesy. Maintain open communication with coaches – but always in a mature adult manner and never around other athletes or parents.
  • Don’t add to your child’s stress. Don’t let your child become an extension of your ego. Don’t define your own self worth in terms of your kids.
  • Accept your child’s disappointment. It matters. Make sure they know you understand and then help them see where they gave their all.
  • Model excellent sportsmanship.

All of the coaches at SPAC are trained in the Mastery Approach to coaching. We encourage our athlete’s parents to reinforce this approach.

The following information was taken from Dr. Smoll’s handout from the course. You can also purchase a video on following the Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports at

Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports – a parent guide

Behavior at Sport Events
Much of the joy of being a sport parent comes from watching your child during practices and games. Fortunately, the majority of parents behave appropriately at athletic events. But it takes only a few inconsiderate individuals to turn a pleasant atmosphere into a stressful one for all.Coaches, program administrators, sport officials, and the athletes themselves have a right to demand that spectators conform to acceptable standards of behavior.

Pre-Practice/Game Preparation

  • Tell your child to have fun. Emphasize that sports and other activities in life are enjoyable in themselves whether you win or lose. In other words, having fun does not depend on winning!
  • Tell your child that success is related to commitment and effort! The goal is to do your best rather than be the best. Emphasize that athletes are never “losers if they commit themselves to doing their best and giving maximum effort.
  • Let your son or daughter know that the pride you feel is not affected by their level of perfomance or by winning. Again, effort is what counts!

During Practices/Games
Youth sports should be enjoyable for everyone, so remember to have fun. More over, in addition to some obvious don’ts (using profanity, drinking alcohol, etc.). you are encouraged to follow these rules of conduct:

  • Do remain in the spectator area during the event.
  • Don’t interfere with the coach. You must be willing to give up the responsibility for your child to the coach for the duration of the practice or game.
  • Do express interest, encouragement, and support to your child. Be sure to cheer good effort as
    well as good performance. Communicate repeatedly that giving total effort is all you expect.
  • Don’t shout instructions or criticisms to the children.
  • Do lend a hand when a coach or official asks for help.
  • Don’t make abusive comments to athletes, parents, officials, or coaches of either team .

What if an official makes a ” bad” call or a parent violates a rule of conduct?

  • You have the obligation to control your own behavior, and to remind others of their responsibilities, if necessary.
  • When parents behave badly (loud, rowdy, obnoxious actions). It is primarily the duty of program administrators and sport officials to step in. But you can also help to correct the situation with a reminder that these are just kids playing a game.
  • Caution! When parents misbehave it could be emotionally charged and potentially dangerous, so be very careful and diplomatic in how you approach unruly parents.

Post-Practice/Game Follow-up

  • Compliment the coaches and sport officials for doing a good job, and be sure to thank them for their contributions.
  • STOP focusing on whether your child won or lost.
  • LOOK for signs that indicate how your child is feeling (facial expressions, tears, body language).
  • LISTEN to what your child has to say before you provide input. Begin with a supportive greeting, and then ask open-ended questions:

“What part of the practice/game did you enjoy the most/least?”
“What was the best/worst thing about your performance?”
“Where you satisfied with your effort?”
If not, “What do you intend to do about effort in the future?”
“What was the most important thing you learned from the practice/game?”

After a Win

  • Let your child know that athletes should feel good about winning and enjoy it.
  • Tell your child to show consideration for opponents. Good sportsmanship includes being a
    respectful winner and giving opponents a pat on the back or a “high five” in a sincere manner.
  • Remind your child about the importance of continued effort and striving for improvement.
  • If your child played well, here are some things to say:

“Way to go! You showed a lot of effort and improvement. Keep it up.”
“You must feel satisfied with your effort and performance. I’m proud of you.”
“You met the challenge really well. Is there anything in your game that needs more work and improvement?”

  • If your child played badly, here are some things to say:

“That was a good one to win. Is there any part of your game that needs work?”
“Let’s enjoy that win. Keep focusing on your effort and learning, and you’ll do better next time.”

  • Ask your child, ”Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other parts of your life?”

After a loss

  • Don’t blame or get angry with your child. He or she feels bad enough already.
  • Avoid the temptation to deny or distort the disappointment your child is feeling. For example, it is not helpful to say. “It doesn’t matter.”
  • Point out something positive that was achieved during the game. Here are some things to say:

“Great effort and improvement. Keep working hard, and winning will take care
of itself.”
“That was a tough one to lose, but your defense showed improvement. Stick with it, and it’ll pay off.”
“Really good effort. That’s all anyone can ask. I’m proud of you.”
”It never feels good to lose, but you showed terrific sportsmanship. Way to go!”

  • If your child hasn’t given maximum effort, communicate your unhappiness without putting
    down the youngster as a person. Focus on the future and emphasize athletes owe it to
    themselves and their team to give maximum effort.
  • Ask your child, “Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other
    parts of your life?”

Thanks again to all the parents who came out. It’s so wonderful to see all the support we give to our young athletes just in coming to a discussion like this. Keep doing your snow dances! We’re going to have an awesome season!!