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CHILDREN & SPORT PSYCHOLOGY. Eileen Wolfe University of West Florida. IMPORTANCE OF YOUTH SPORTS. Youth sports act as a microcosm of society Socialization Problem solving Leadership Discipline Cooperation/teamwork Dealing with adversity Overcoming fear Facing challenges

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Children sport psychology


Eileen Wolfe

University of West Florida

Importance of youth sports

  • Youth sports act as a microcosm of society

    • Socialization

    • Problem solving

    • Leadership

    • Discipline

    • Cooperation/teamwork

    • Dealing with adversity

    • Overcoming fear

    • Facing challenges

    • Stress/arousal regulation

    • Healthy lifestyle

    • Coordination

    • Self-efficacy


  • Nearly 45 million youth participate in sports every year in U.S.

    • Represents 66% of all out-of-school activities for youth (Ewing & Seefeldt, 2002)

  • #1 reason for involvement is “To have fun”

    • Other main reasons: improve skills, get in shape, be with friends (Ewing & Seefeldt, 1996)


  • For every 10 youth that begin sport, 3 to 4 discontinue by next season (Gould & Petlichkiff, 1988)

  • 50% of youth dropout of sport involvement by age 12

    • 70% dropout by age 14 (University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, 1981-1997)

    • In any given year, 3 to 4 out of 10 will drop out before the next season.

  • Reasons? _____________________________

Personal characteristics of children at risk for heightened competitive state anxiety
Personal Characteristics of Children at Risk for Heightened COMPETITIVE State Anxiety

  • Frequent worries about adult expectations and evaluation by others

  • Fear of failure

  • Less perceived fun

  • Less satisfaction with their performance, regardless of winning or losing

  • Perception that participation is important to parents

  • Outcome goal orientation and low perceived ability

  • Maladaptive Perfectionism


  • Proper interventions can decrease dropout rates and increase positive developmental outcomes

  • 1)Positive reinforcement, 2)technical instruction, and 3) mistake-contingent encouragement from adults most important interventions

    • Focus on increasing desirable behaviors by rewarding

    • Coaches and parents can be trained

Understanding the child athlete
Understanding the child athlete

  • Need continuous and immediate reinforcement: positive approach

  • Not all want to become “Elite”

  • Stages of Athlete Development

    (Côté, 1999; Côté, Lidor, & Hackfort, 2009)

    • Sampling years

    • Specializing years

    • Investment years

    • Recreational years

Sampling years

  • Majority of youth in this stage

  • Characterized by “deliberate play”

  • Kids voluntarily try variety of sports

  • Positive outcomes: Form opinions on sports, develop fundamental motor skills, socialize, learn to work with others

  • Essential building block of sport development

  • Can go into specializing or recreational

Specializing years
Specializing Years

  • Characterized by a balance between deliberate play and deliberate practice

  • Kids begin to focus on one or two sports that they enjoy

  • Skills such as problem solving, imagery, and goal-setting, along with socialization, self-concept, and self-esteem development (Chase & Drummer, 1992; Harter, 1978)

  • Should be challenging, yet fun!

  • Can go into investment or recreational

Investment years

  • Characterized by deliberate practice

  • Investment of training time, money, focus

    • Development of elite athletes

  • Win-at-all cost focus on performance and competition

  • Can teach leadership, responsibility, commitment, stress regulation

Recreation years
Recreation years

  • Characterized by enjoyment and focus on healthy lifestyle, socialization

    • Not place for overly competitive level of play

  • Reason many join community sports rather than school-sponsored sports

    • Less pressure

    • Everyone given equal opportunity

  • More likely to experience less negative effects

    • However, less likely to develop PST’s for stress regulation

Understanding the youth sport coach
Understanding the youth sport coach

  • Majority are untrained volunteers

    • Most coach how they were coached

    • Trained coaches have only 5% dropout rate compared to untrained at 26% (Barnett, Smoll, & Smith, 1992)

  • Majority use combination of negative and positive approach

    • Should follow 5:1 RULE

    • Phil Jackson vs. Bobby Knight

    • Positive Coaching Alliance

Coaching youth sports
Coaching youth sports

  • Understand individual athlete goals

  • Model Sportsmanship

    • Increases peer-to-peer positive reinforcement

    • ROOTS: Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, Self

  • Practice PST’s to regulate own stress/arousal

    • Imagery, self-talk, relaxation/breathing

  • Use positive, sincere feedback

    • Sandwich Approach: Positive statement, Future-oriented instruction, compliment

  • Smith, Smoll, Curtis (1979) CBAS Study

    • Barnett, Smoll, & Smith (1992) follow-up

Understanding youth sport parents
Understanding youth sport parents

  • Single most important thing kids need from parents: Support

    • Emotional

    • Informational

    • Companionship

    • Tangible

  • Continuum from underinvolved to overinvolved parents

    • The healthiest development of the child athlete takes place when the parent shows support and respect for the child athlete, teammates, coaches, officials, fans, and opponents alike, through a moderate level of involvement.

  • Parents gone wild
    Parents gone wild

    • “The Overinvolved Parent”

    • Examples

    Educating parents

    • Parents strongly influence their child’s goals (Duda & Hom, 1993) and perceived competence (Brustad, 1993).

    • May not realize the impact of their influence

    • May not know how to communicate effectively with coaches and the child

    • Parent Orientation Meetings

      • Parent Responsibilities and Code of Conduct (American Sport Education Program, 1994)

      • Can use as opportunity to tackle “Myths” (pg.530-531)


    • Which of the following is best characterized by “deliberate practice” in athlete development?

      • Sampling stage

      • Specializing stage

      • Investment stage

      • Reinforcement stage

      • None of the above


    • The stage of athlete development in which an athlete invests all of their resources into one sport is known as the sampling stage.

      a. True

      b. False


    • According to the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, approximately what percentage of athletes dropout of youth sports by the age of 14?

      • 20%

      • 30%

      • 50%

      • 70%

      • None of the above


    • Reinforcement for young athletes should be __________ and __________________?

      • Continuous and delayed

      • Continuous and immediate

      • Intermittent and delayed

      • Intermittent and immediate

      • None of the above

    • Feedback should be task oriented (not outcome oriented) and self-comparing (not peer comparing)


    • Which of the following should coaches use to deal with stresses of coaching and to be a good role model?

      • Self-talk

      • Relaxation/Breathing techniques

      • Imagery

      • All of the above

      • None of the above


    • True or False: Bobby Knight is a spokesperson for the Positive Coaching Alliance and is displays a considerate coaching style.

      • True

      • False


    • According to Youth sport coaches should follow the 2:1 Rule by giving 2 positive feedbacks to every 1 negative feedback.

      • True

      • False

    Final thoughts

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