For some parents, sitting and watching their child play sports is a practice in self-control. Especially when your child isn’t trying hard enough, at least in your mind she’s not. Your frustrations either comes out in what you yell to your child or in your body language as you sigh loudly, shake your head or throw your hands up in disgust.
It’s easy for us as parents to critique our child’s performance and conclude that “she isn’t trying hard enough” or “he’s not giving 100%”.
And in some cases, it may very well be true that your child isn’t really giving his best effort. But your verbal and physical exasperation will not solve the issue. Usually, that type of response is only good for venting, not for resolving.
So how do you respond when it seems like your child isn’t really trying?
I would suggest a few steps to help you and your child work through this.
Step 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 his lack of effort? What is the reason that it is so important to me that she 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.
If you struggle to ask yourself these sort of life-coaching questions, process them out loud with a friend or contact me for a coaching session. I’m very good at asking probing and helpful questions!
Step 2: Listen to Your Child
It could be that your child’s lack of motivation is directly related to him being discouraged. For whatever reason, she 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 she may interpret it as you accusing her or demeaning her of something she is possibly not even aware she is 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 he’s feeling burned out. Perhaps she feels she can’t please her coach or you or her teammates. Perhaps she really is trying her hardest and you are merely misreading her.
If he doesn’t want to talk the first time you try this, don’t give up. You may have to wait for when he is in a responsive mood. 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” that 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.
Step 3: Focus on Strengths
Maybe your child just needs a little encouragement, a little reinforcement that his effort really does matter. The “push” you can give him is to focus on what he is doing right and praise that, instead of being obsessed with the lack of effort you perceive. If you are only talking about what she is not doing, she may feel that no matter what, she 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 on her own.
Another way to help her focus on her strengths is to get her some mental toughness coaching. There are a lot of people doing that these days, but I’d recommend my friend Craig Sigl from the Mental Toughness Academy. He is a standup guy who knows how to help kids do their best. (That’s my affiliate link)
Step 4: Be Available
If your child asks for your help, or if in your conversations it comes out that he wants help, then be ready with some ideas. Does he want you to help him work on his skills? Does she 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.
Step 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 your child play and enjoy the sport on his 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.