TrueSport Resources

 How to Help Athletes Be Confident In Tough Situations

How To Help Athletes Have Confidence in Tough Situations

As a young athlete, your child is occasionally faced with big decisions, as well as hundreds of smaller scale decisions on a regular basis. Parents should not only teach good decision-making habits and strategies, but also help their athletes feel confident about making tough decisions.

Dr. Carl Pickhardt, PhD, practicing psychologist and author of 15 books on parenting, including his most recent book, WHO STOLE MY CHILD? Parenting through four stages of adolescence, shares his expertise on how to teach your young athletes how to feel confident about their decisions, from the early days of T-ball all the way through college visits.
Teach your athlete to recognize decisions when they’re being made

To be confident about making tough decisions, a child needs to learn how to make smaller, simpler decisions for themselves from a young age. “You don’t empower younger athletes to feel like they can make their own decisions; you empower them by helping them recognize all the athletic decisions they are already making for themselves,” says Pickhardt. “This is the personal power base you want them to be able to build upon.”

Helping a child become decisive during practice or games can help to build a strong, resolute nature that will later be used for more than just game-day small-scale decisions. Pickhardt adds that the younger a student is when he starts making decisions for himself, the easier it will be to make complex decisions later on. Think of decision-making like a muscle that needs to be worked out and regularly used to stay strong. The stronger that muscle gets, the more confident your athlete will be in their decisions.
Help your child see the importance of consequences

“Decisions can determine direction, and setting one’s own direction can feel satisfying,” says Pickhardt. Children often don’t feel that they have true decision-making power, so when a choice is within their control, make sure you’re explaining how and why the decision matters.
“Choosing shows what one cares about, but also brings with it the risk of disappointment,” Pickhardt adds. “Choosing is also losing — time and energy spent on activity X means time not spent on activities Y and Z, and so this brings the risk of regret.” For example, a young athlete can choose to focus on soccer or track for the spring season.

Because they must choose one thing over the other, children often don’t want to make a decision or will avoid making one. But athletes will gain self-confidence by making these tough choices, so don’t try to force your child into a decision that you think is the right one.
Acknowledge the difficulty of making choices

From an adult perspective, some choices seem obvious to you — but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to your child, and that’s okay. “If the child wavers back and forth or keeps changing their mind, they may be experiencing honest ambivalence — wanting and not wanting to do something at the same time,” says Pickhardt.
Be patient, and don’t push your athlete toward a decision that you want, but instead, help your athlete come to their own choice. “All decisions are partly an entry into the unexpected,” Pickhardt reminds parents. “Thinking through decision-making is important because by predicting possible outcomes before deciding, one can evaluate a possible decision before choosing it.”

You can help your young athlete by teaching smart decision-making tactics, like listing out pros and cons of different options, and by looking back at similar decisions that they’ve made in the past. Remember, an adolescent’s emotional intelligence is still developing, and they may not yet have all the tools to make a rational, thought-out decision.

It’s tempting to simply equate confidence in a decision with making the ‘right’ decision, or a feeling of sureness. But unfortunately, most decisions aren’t black-and-white.

Things like focusing on a club team versus a school team, or choosing a college to attend, won’t be simple choices with an obvious right or wrong answer. “Rather, confidence in hard decision-making is not so much being sure of the outcome, but being secure that whatever the outcome, you will be okay and glad you gave it a try,” says Pickhardt. “That’s true confidence.”

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 What To Do When Your Athlete Needs a Sports Break

What To Do When Your Athlete Needs a Sports Break

In youth sports 

When your young athlete needs a break from their sport, it’s your job as a parent to support them and help guide them through this challenging time. Steve Smith, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at UC Santa Barbara, works with parents and young athletes as they navigate sporting life, and he’s seen many athletes take breaks from a specific sport before returning the next season stronger and happier than ever.

Here’s what he wants parents to know:
Don’t panic

It’s easy to start catastrophizing when your child needs to take a break or wants to try something different. “Talking with parents about this can be a real challenge, because many get so heavily invested in their child’s participation or results in one given season,” says Smith.

“There’s good research that shows kids need breaks from sport and pushing too hard can often end in outcomes that no one wants.” Don’t forget, a break isn’t always because of a physical injury – your athlete might need a mental and emotional break as well. Everyone can burn out from pushing beyond their limits, both physical and emotional, even at a young age.
Be aware of your response

For some parents, it can be hard to accept that your athlete needs a break. On a conscious level, you may not even be aware of how you’re reacting, but your young athlete might sense your disappointment.
“Parents will say they’re OK with the child taking a break, but the child will tell me, ‘If I take time off, my parents will be disappointed,’” says Smith. “Parents are communicating something different to their child than what they’re saying, and it can be really confusing.”
Find an expert

The hardest part of helping an athlete take a break from sports can be the initial conversation. You may not want to be the one who tells your athlete they need a break – and honestly, many pre-teens and teens are disinclined to listen to you anyway. Smith recommends seeking out an expert, such as a sports medicine doctor, sports psychologist, or physical therapist, who can assess and explain the reason for taking some time off.
“It’s helpful to have a third party involved. A sports medicine doctor can help explain to a young athlete that six weeks off now can lead to six years of strong play,” he adds. “A coach can also help here, telling an athlete that leaving is only temporary and they still have a place on the team.”
Make an active recovery plan

Many athletes and parents panic at the idea of a break, simply because there isn’t a firm timeline or plan in place. This especially true for young athletes who are told to take time off but may not be given a strategic recovery plan that involves low-impact exercises, physical therapy, or mental wellness activities.

Depending on the situation, a coach may be able to help create this plan in tandem with a doctor, physical therapist, or even a sports psychologist. However, Smith notes that not every athlete wants to immediately return to sport, so if your child seems uninterested in a return, don’t force it.
Help your athlete keep in touch

Staying connected with coaches and teammates can be hugely beneficial. “Often, a child’s teammates are their closest friends, and suddenly he’s not seeing them every day at practice, and it can feel like his friends are moving on without him,” says Smith.
Keeping in touch with a coach can also help with a child’s motivation and eventual return to sport, and it keeps the coach connected so he knows when the athlete will be able to return to play.
Find similar athletes

“There are so many great blogs and online resources out there created by athletes who’ve had the same hurdle as your child,” says Smith. “Search for those so you can show your athlete that he’s not alone in needing a break, whether it’s due to injury, burnout, or even just to pursue another sport or hobby. There’s always a success story that you can point to.”
The hardest part for both parents and athletes on a break from sport is that suddenly, time opens up. For a lot of young athletes, hours after school and on weekends are dedicated to practice and competition, and the new free time can be daunting.
Let your athlete take a few days to indulge or recover with some time spent relaxing but try to find ways to fill the time after the first week, says Smith. “Find a new activity that can be life-enhancing so that time can be really enriching,” he suggests. That may mean joining a new club at school or spending time as a family doing things like hiking or taking a class together.
Parents also may find themselves at a loss when, suddenly, they aren’t driving to and from practice and competition. This is a good chance for you to take some time for yourself, perhaps restarting your own exercise regimen or spending more time at home. “Know that you deserve a break, too,” Smith adds.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 How to Help Your Athletes Achieve Goals

How to Help Your Athlete Achieve Goals 

In youth sports 

Some athletes, when asked about their current goals, will simply list ‘winning.’ But ask how they intend to meet that goal and you’ll likely be met with confused silence. Not only does goal-setting often go overlooked, we also miss teaching students how to meet their goals by putting specific, long-term daily habits in place. 

Frank L. Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, regularly finds himself teaching these concepts to university students who are learning about goal-setting for the first time. Here’s what he wants you to know to help your athletes create a system of habits to hit their goals.  

Teach goal-setting basics 

Before explaining habits, you need to first teach your athletes how to set goals, and then how related habits can logically help them achieve those goals. It sounds obvious to adults, but for young children, that cause-and-effect may be harder to comprehend. 

“In college, I teach a course on this, but it’s foundational and often skipped in younger grades,” says Smoll. In order to set young athletes up with a strong foundation of goal-setting, try sharing the concept of SMART goals and the reasoning behind this strategy.  

Consider the ABCs 

“Create goals that are Achievable, Believable, and Commit-able,” says Smoll. “People often set broad goals – like New Year’s resolutions to ‘lose weight’ – and they rarely work.” That’s because goal-setting is a process that requires commitment to working on things on a daily basis.  

You need to start with a goal that you can believe in, realistically achieve, and are willing to commit to. Then, break down that goal into action steps. “Find individual steps that are achievable and commit to them,” he adds. “Those early wins are going to keep students invested and moving forward.”  

Not all goals are created equal 

“Find something that your athletes want to get from the season. Find something that they will want to achieve, and they will be motivated to start working on those strong habits,” explains Smoll. 

Their goals don’t have to be sport-specific. Suggest something outside of sport if they’re struggling to find something sport-related. Maybe a goal would be to make time to read more books or improve their grade in a class. Smoll adds, “You can find something simple that they want to accomplish, and once they accomplish something small, they’ll be even more motivated.”  

Define those good habits 

Once a SMART goal has been identified, sit down with your athletes and list out habits that support that goal and will help the team find success, suggests Smoll. 

That can include practice-specific habits like always warming up, as well as healthy lifestyle habits like eating balanced meals, getting in physical activity beyond practice, and practicing smart time management.  

Show the importance of specific habits 

Often, children won’t understand how a habit like sleeping enough can improve their training. “You have to convince young athletes of the importance of these habits before you can expect them to put them into practice,” says Smoll. 

For example, more than 40 percent of teens aren’t getting adequate amounts of sleep, and inadequate sleep can lead to inattention in school and in games, as well as an increased risk of depression and anxiety or other risky behaviors. Simply telling a student to ‘sleep eight hours each night’ isn’t as helpful as explaining the benefits versus the risks.  

Avoid external rewards 

It’s tempting to offer extrinsic rewards for a job well done, or for sticking to a healthy habit for a certain amount of time. “But the problem with providing extrinsic rewards for goal achievement is that an athlete will start working for that reward versus that feeling of accomplishment. A dedicated athlete shouldn’t need five dollars for a win,” says Smoll. 

“A lot of parents want to be involved, but they’re actually hurting the athlete by providing external motivation. We want athletes to have an internal drive, and if you start introducing extrinsic rewards, that undermines internal motivation.”  

Chart progress 

Repetition has been shown to be the key to habit formation. “One of the keys to goal-setting is adding in process goals that are measurable, things you can do each day. I have athletes set up a simple performance evaluation system where they can check off if they met that objective for the day,” explains Smoll. 

That can be things like drinking a certain amount of water, showing up to practice on time, doing a quick yoga or mindfulness routine each day, or any other healthy habits. “Any simple form of record-keeping is going to be helpful." 


Teaching young athletes how to develop strong habits early will set the foundation that will allow them to reach their goals. 

Being able to see “those easy early wins – like simply sticking to a small habit – can make it much easier to work towards big goals,” says Smoll. “Give a kid something they can do right away, and you create a foundation for moving on to other things. This is a big part of why youth sport is so valuable,” Smoll says. “It’s a laboratory for life.” 

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do

Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do 

In youth sports

As a parent, raising a happy and healthy child is probably one of your top goals. Throughout this journey, you’ll not only be cultivating a positive, caring environment for your young athlete to thrive in, you will also be acting as a role model of the behaviors and values you want to instill. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines a role model as “a person who serves as an example by influencing others. For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers.” 

Leading by example and embracing the fact that you are your child’s key role model will help them develop the kind of behavior you want them to adopt and practice throughout life. The AACAP explains that “children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, relationships, or when making difficult decisions.” 

It’s imperative for parents to take a look at the way they are living their own lives and reflect on what they want their children to mirror, especially since “negative role models may also influence children,” according to the AACAP. Here are five practices that parents should avoid in order to position themselves as the positive role model their young athlete needs to build character and confidence in sport and in life.  

Don’t Silence Your Goals 

According to Michele Borba, PhD, an internationally recognized character development education expert and educational psychologist, “To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations.” 

Borba adds, “The secret is to purposefully model goal-setting when your kids can watch or listen. In fact, modeling is such a simple way to learn the skill. All you need to remember is the formula for goal-setting: I will + what + when and then teach it to your kids.” 

Practice writing out a few goals with your athletes with the formula above. For example, you can suggest, “I will improve on passing the ball more accurately by the end of the soccer season.”  

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations 

While there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, be aware of your athlete’s true capabilities and work with them to set realistic expectations for themselves. 

“Be careful of setting too high a standard. Putting your kid in situations that are too difficult puts them at the risk of failing and lowering feelings of competence. Aim for ‘one step more.’ Effective expectations encourage kids to be their best, so that they can develop a solid belief in themselves,” says Borba. 

For instance, if your child is learning a new sport skill, like shooting the basketball with their less-dominant side, you cannot expect them to perfect that skill in a season. Instead, help them set an expectation that they’ll be attempting to score 1/3 of their shots with that less-dominant arm by the end of the season.  

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture 

At times, it can be easy to lose sight of the big-picture benefits sport participation can bring to your young athlete’s life. Some sport parents get so bogged down in wins or loses that they forget how sport enriches the lives of young athletes by teaching them values and life skills, such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and teamwork. 

Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, suggests, “Parents should never shout criticism or instruction at their children – even to teammates and opponents. If parents wish to shout encouragement or praise, codes of sportsmanship dictate that recognition be given to other athletes as well.” 

He emphasizes that “there’s no reason why a great play or great effort made by the opposition shouldn’t also be appreciated.”  

Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You 

In recent times, we’ve seen how a bad call can push some parents over the edge and create tension on the sidelines. But that behavior will only teach your child that it’s okay to erupt in violence when things do not go their way. 

“When parents yell at or criticize athletes, coaches, or officials, they set an incredibly poor example. It’s not surprising to find that parents who exhibit poor self-control in their own lives often have children who are prone to emotional outbursts and poor self-discipline,” says Smoll. 

He adds, “If parents are to expect sportsmanship and self-control from their children, they need to exhibit the same qualities.”  

Don’t Forget to Show Empathy 

According to Borba, “Empathy is the ability to identify with and feel for another person. It’s the powerful quality that halts violent and cruel behavior and urges us to treat others kindly.” 

When parents can display empathy on a daily basis, they encourage their young athlete to show the same grace to their teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials. 

Borba confirms that “the more aware that kids are of what empathy sounds like, the more likely they are to use those behaviors in their daily lives. Let’s not assume our children know how to show others they care. For instance [phrases to share are]: ‘You look upset.’ ‘I understand how you feel.’ ‘It makes me feel sad that you’re hurt.’ ‘I bet that hurts a lot. It happened to me, too.’”  


Your influence as a parent is something that should not be taken for granted. Remember, young people are always observing your actions and attitudes. At the end of the day, the way you behave can easily impact your child’s development in a positive or negative way. 

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Disability Etiquette: What You Need to Know

Disability Etiquette: What to Know

In youth sports 

We live in a diverse world of people. With over 60 million people with disabilities in the nation, there’s a good chance you have an athlete with a disability in your community. As sport continues to evolve to include more athletes with disabilities, it is becoming more and more imperative that we all learn disability etiquette. 

 TrueSport has partnered with Disabled Sports USA, the national leader in community-based adaptive sports, to help create a more positive and inclusive sport environment for all youth.  

This starts with the simple recommendations below from Disabled Sports USA on how to best interact with and support people with disabilities. 

General Best Practices: 
Use person-first language to put the athlete first. 

People-First Language 
Person/Athlete with a disability 
Person/Athlete who uses a wheelchair or scooter 
Person/Athlete with an intellectual or cognitive disability 
Person/Athlete with multiple sclerosis 
Person/Athlete with a mental health condition or diagnosis 
Blind or low vision 
Deaf or hard of hearing 

Language to Avoid 

Disabled or handicapped person 
Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound 
Special, mentally retarded, slow or simple person 
Afflicted by multiple sclerosis or “victim” 
Mentally ill or crazy 
Visually impaired 
- Hearing impaired 

Don’t assume 
Ask how you can help instead of making assumptions about what an athlete can and cannot do. Avoid the urge to help simply to speed up processes. Instead, build in extra time for the athlete to get equipment set up or complete a skill progression. Some athletes may need more time to think or speak, so be patient when waiting for a response. 

Don’t Ignore 
Take the time to get to know your athlete and how their disability might affect their participation and make appropriate and reasonable modifications. 

Ask prior to moving or touching equipment 
Understand that an athlete’s adaptive equipment, such as a wheelchair, walker, or cane, is part of their personal space. Only adjust the equipment if requested, as unexpected shifts could cause the athlete to become off balanced and cause injury. 

Communication Best Practices: 
Speak directly to the athlete using your regular speech patterns. Only speak louder or slower if requested to do so by the athlete. 
Face the athlete when speaking and try to avoid blocking the mouth or chewing anything so that those who are deaf or hard of hearing can clearly see your lip movements. 
Put yourself on the same level as the athlete when speaking to an athlete who uses a wheelchair or is short of stature for more than a minute or two. 
Provide extra time for athletes with cognitive or intellectual disabilities to formulate thoughts and complete sentences. Try not to interrupt or provide words for the athlete as this could further delay processing time. Instead, consider ways to ask questions that require only yes/no answers. 
Make sure to introduce yourself to an athlete who is blind or has low vision they know who is speaking. Prior to ending the conversation, let them know you will be leaving and who will be guiding them next or when they should expect your return. 

Be afraid to ask an athlete with a speech impairment to repeat themselves if you have difficulty hearing or understanding. 
Over-inflate the successes of an adaptive athlete. While PR times or other goal-related successes should be celebrated as with any other athlete, over-hyping achievements for adaptive athletes gives the impression that expectations were not high to start. 

Coaching Best Practices: 
Take the time to look around your facility and ensure that there are no physical barriers to participation. 
Is parking close to the venue? Are there enough handicapped parking spaces? 
Are areas accessible to all without having to navigate stairs, thick grass, etc.? 
Are hallways wide enough for wheelchairs? 
Is the facility tidy and clear of any obstacles? 
Are equipment areas or water stations set at a height that is accessible for all? 
Have the same expectations of all athletes as you would any other in your program. This means requiring them to show up on time, participate in the full lesson to the best of their ability, etc. While modifications can be made, the focus should be on independence and inclusion. 
Don’t be afraid to try out a variety of adaptations to find the one that works best for your individual athlete. Prior to the start of the activity, ask the athlete what they need and want, and keep up a dialogue with the athlete throughout the process. 
Schedule more breaks if stamina is an issue, consider quieter lesson areas or times of day if the athlete is easily over-stimulated, etc. 
Ensure proper adaptive equipment is available so they can be ready to start lessons at the appropriate time. 
Allow athletes to choose to challenge themselves by providing appropriate skill progressions to meet their goals. 
Consider using Universal Design coaching practices where suitable. Universal Design: Planning an activity to ensure everyone can participate by considering all needs and abilities ahead of time.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.