Tackling Adversity:
Helping Your Child Athlete Handle Tough Times

January 14, 2015 by 50-Yard Line Mom

It’s Friday night. For many of us that means taking a seat on the bleachers or standing on the sidelines to cheer on our children as they try to make a name for themselves on their high school football team. But for every big win, one team goes home disappointed. That pressure to perform and to win only increases when the games move to Saturday and your child plays in college. Imagine what it’s like on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays in the NFL!

Frustration and letdowns are as much a part of playing sports as winning and losing. As parents of young athletes, we need to help them cope with disappointment and setbacks. Figuring out ways to deal with adversity at an early age helps build character and skills that will be valuable on and off the field, now and later in life. Young athletes who don’t have these skills and who can't handle their frustrations are more likely to drop out earlier or hang their self worth on the results of each game.

Our children learn more from us about character than about athletic performance, so our job is to lift them up and teach them to have exemplary character. We all know that is a lot easier said than done. While sports coaches focus on winning, speed and strength, as parents, we are teachers, cheerleaders, and role models. It is our job as parents to pick them up when they get knocked down – and they will get knocked down.

Here are a few lessons I have learned over the years that have helped me get my son through tough times:

1. Listening. At some point, every athlete feels anger, frustration, or disappointment. These can be the result of losing a big game or having to sit out while another player starts. Maybe they didn’t play their best, despite their best efforts. Our job as parents is to validate these feelings and let them know there’s truth to them.

2. Encouragement. This is an ongoing process. Sometimes adversity will strike. During these times, provide reminders that God has a plan and a timeline. Even when times are tough, you have to stay true to who you are as a person and to your values.

3. Perseverance. Continue to work hard. You can overcome a lot by staying focused on your ultimate dream. When frustrated or angry, athletes' minds are glued to the past. You want to help your kids focus on the present and not dwell on the past. Your players must learn to move on to the next play, shot, routine, or point.

I recently spoke about tackling adversity at a brunch for moms and coaches wives. Afterward, one mother stopped me to discuss my message. She said her son is continually overlooked by his coach. He sits on the bench while kids with less talent get more playing time. It’s a huge source of frustration for her son and it was comforting for her to hear that she could help him simply by listening, having compassion for his frustration and, of course, being his advocate.

While advocacy on behalf of our children is healthy, we parents must also resist the urge to lose our tempers during games and yell at referees, umpires and coaches. It’s okay to be disappointed and show it, but always remember that our children look to us to set the standard for acceptable behavior. During one game when my son Jordan was in middle school, he was playing both offense and defense. He was running the ball and there was a missed block, so he didn’t get to run as far as he wanted. After the play, Jordan slammed his helmet down on the ground in anger. As soon as the game was over, my husband went over to the sidelines and apologized to the coach and made Jordan apologize as well. My son knew then, just as he knows now, that acting unprofessional is not an acceptable way to express frustration and would do nothing to help him achieve his goal of moving up the ranks in sports.

Cheer on your children on as they score touchdowns, homeruns, and baskets; then continue this support and encouragement off the field. This means helping them get up when they’ve been counted out or helping them manage their frustrations with circumstances over which they have no control. It’s our job to help them stay focused on their goals – even while they face the inevitable hard knocks.