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How Do I Keep My Child Motivated?

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A common question I hear in my practice is, what is the best source of motivation?  My child is getting burned out, but there is too much invested and their potential too great for them to leave the sport now!  This question is so important, and the answer based on a focus towards development….  NOT results!

Children are motivated by different needs throughout their development, and this can also be seen through athletic participation.  Enhancing motivation before the age of 12 is accomplished mostly with your praise and encouragement, in addition to your child’s sense of accomplishment within their sport.  After these early years, a child’s source of motivation and accomplishment can change.  This is often when parents begin to become frustrated trying to keep their child motivated to excel in their previously desired activities, including athletics and academics. 

The situation is complicated for athletic children when a loss of interest or motivation occurs because sport parents are also worried there will be a long-term impact on training goals, competitions, and future athletic success.  It is common for parents to want to push their children through this “phase”.  The rationale is most often altruistic, “They don’t know what they are risking…I’m working to protect their future…They have too much potential to quit.”  The responses to justify pushing their child athlete are also understandable because families become very invested both monetarily and emotionally in their child’s performance and training.  Unfortunately, the consequences for pushing a child beyond their limits can be significant and make an enduring impact on the parent-child relationship.

First, I recommend assessing a situation.  Attempt to locate the cause of your child’s change in desire, especially if sudden changes in behavior or mood are severe.  If a trigger can be found, then an intervention by parents, coaches, or a helping professional are likely to be more effective. 

Next, hold off before you add rewards to any situation.  Research suggests that adding incentives unnecessarily can decrease a person’s internal drive.  The result is a need to continue the reward indefinitely if you want to keep the desired behavior going! 

Finally, believe it or not, allowing your child to experience difficulties, or poor decision-making in the earlier stages of their athletic career can be a good thing! 

Athletes need to develop the same life skills as non-athletes, and it is better for them to do this with the support and guidance of their parents before the independence of college or professional sports is upon them.

If you are a parent or coach supporting a struggling young athlete, Contact Dr. Casey at or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it TODAY!

Last Updated ( Tuesday, April 07 2009 10:43 )