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.
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
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.
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.
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
glad you gave it a try,” says Pickhardt.
“That’s true confidence.”