Molding Young Atheletes by Darrell Erickson

On top of teaching kids how to run, catch, swing, kick and throw, the words and behaviors displayed by adults instill long-lasting beliefs and values into kids. Here are some attributes to instill in young athletes:

Gut Optimism: In athletics and life, a core belief of optimism becomes the groundwork for positive expectations to be a winner in life. Winners expect adversity, plan for it and grow from it. Optimism sprouts confidence, inner drive, positive motivation and mental control. Internal optimism transforms beliefs into actions by searching for positive opportunities in every situation. Optimism becomes a winning attitude and a way of life.

Mental Focus: Kids and adults need this trait to overcome mental laziness and distractions. A positive mental focus is the vehicle that builds strong self-images. Parents and coaches help kids by searching for and pointing out individual success and well-performed skills. Like the storybook choo-choo train trying to climb the hill that repeated “I think I can” kids too can mentally focus with positive self-talk.

Sportsmanship: This important value starts at the top and works its way down to the players. Adults display good and bad sportsmanship in front of many young eyes and ears. Regardless of the final score, adults must be polite and respectful to other teams, fans, umpires, referees and players. Adults and players alike are representing their organization, school, or community and are constantly being judged. In life, it is more important to be a good sport than being good at a sport.

Self-control: Found in two forms, self-control can be emotional (internal) or physical (external). Emotional self-control takes charge of the voice inside our heads during good and bad times. We can teach kids to accept temporary failure by using immediate positive self-talk and learn from their mistakes. Frustration is natural and kids can be encouraged to learn from negative performances. External physical self-control relates to sportsmanship and anger control. Young athletes are “on stage” during performances and their behavior reflects on coaches and others. If negative behavior or language is allowed, it will grow and spread. The goal is to help kids deal with their emotions and behaviors in empowering ways.

Responsibility: This strong characteristic is important in life. We help players develop personal responsibility by making them realize they alone control their athletic performance (and their happiness). Winning is an internal life attitude regardless of game scores. Winning athletes take responsibility for their attitudes, their desire, their goals and their performance.

Motivation: The ability to motivate ourselves from the inside out is critical to academics, jobs and personal relationships. We help players channel and control their inner drive as they take responsibility for their behavior and performance. As we inject fun into practices and games, kids perform better with greater self-confidence which spirals into stronger motivation, higher performance and more confidence.

Confidence and Self-Esteem: Kids with these important values have the strength to say no to many of life’s destructive distractions. Confidence starts as a fragile thread that we can turn into a steel cable as we reinforce the good things kids do. It must be an internalized belief. Confidence is visible as an attitude of “I can” instead of “I can’t.” Through positive reinforcement during practices and games, kids develop life-long confidence.

Team Spirit: With team spirit, kids portray a value of pride as they represent their team and supporting organization. A spirit of friendship develops as many individuals become one unit. Each athlete learns the value of performing for the team and working in unison with others to achieve a common goal.

Perseverance: This powerful trait drives people as they strive to achieve goals. A positive attitude of persistence and determination is contagious. Strong perseverance grows into increased motivation and higher expectations. We can help kids adopt a “never quit” attitude and eliminate the negative beliefs from their lives.

Adjusting to Circumstances: Being able to adjust to situations (good and bad) is a great lesson for life in jobs, families, schools, friends, and relationships. Kids must adjust to picky referees/umpires, weather, opposing trash talk, and much more. Kids with positive self-images and internal calm will adjust to circumstances with optimism and confidence.

Living with Unfairness: Coaches, teachers, bosses and others treat people differently, often unfairly. Kids can learn to accept perceived inequities of life by maintaining positive internal balance. When kids harbor negative internal emotions, they experience diminished performance, self-confidence and self-empowerment. Our job as parents and coaches is to guide them through the emotions of unfair perceptions as they prepare for life.

You’ll see that many of the values we’ve covered here in this article are interrelated. As parents and coaches, we have an incredible opportunity to impact many young lives and make organized youth sports a better environment for everyone involved.

From long-time youth coach and mentor, Darrell Erickson provides a treasure map to all parents and coaches in his new book, “Molding Young Athletes” available in bookstores or at For more information visit: or email him at: