Parents of Athletes – Stop Praising Results…

Dear Parents,

Our words matter immensely with our children, you all know this…they are our little echoes. I think we take this for granted at times, especially in how we express what matters to us about them. For example, what are the typical questions we ask after a game or what are the typical comments we make before, during or after competition?

The questions we ask communicate the things that are important to us. Our children care about what we care about – at least in reference to them and how and why they receive attention and affirmation from us. If we seem to talk to them most often about results, they will think we care most about results. They will therefore develop self-worth connected to their achievements.

A few words from a Columbia University researcher named Carol Dweck – children who were praised for their natural ability (as compared to effort) became overly focused on results. Following a failure, these same children persisted less, showed less enjoyment, attributed their failure to a lack of ability (which they believed they could not change) and performed poorly in future achievement efforts. Praising children for talent makes them fear difficulty because they begin to equate failure with lack of talent.

So, if this is something you do, think about it – are your children enjoying sports less than they should be?

The flip side of the research is worth noting, even though it might be obvious. Children who were praised for their effort showed more interest in learning, demonstrated greater persistence and more enjoyment, attributed their failure to lack of effort and performed well in subsequent achievement activities. Again, that was from Carol Dweck who was at Columbia University at the time of this research.

So again, our words matter. What we focus on with our children will shape their view of worth.

A few things to consider:

As the research mentioned, praise effort, care about effort – not results. This is hard to do, but it is worth it for your kids.

Similar to this, as Christians, we want to praise, or honor, their character. Besides effort, how well did they listen to the coach, or demonstrate sportsmanship. Honor the effort and the character you saw them exhibit.


If one of the major benefits of sport is the formation our children receive, then we need to play our part. Honoring the character they demonstrate will shape the importance of it in their minds.

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