How to Improve a Young Athlete's Attitude

Kirk Mango wasn't very talented as a young athlete. But that didn't stop him from being a national champion gymnast, three-time All-American and Hall of Fame athlete.

What he did have was passion—and that was more important. In fact, attitude tops talent when it comes to performing well in sports, Mango says.

That's good news. It means that sports kids aren't limited by their talent. If parents and kids assume talent is inborn, and that young athletes can't improve much beyond the limits of their talent, they're restricting themselves.

"This lends itself to the idea that one has less control over how good they can get at something. It is an automatic excuse for failing," he said.

More: How Young Athletes Can Deal With Failure

Passion in Young Athletes

Parents can't instill passion in their kids. But they can keep an eye out for what interests their young athletes, and support their interests and passions.

And parents can teach kids how to hone their mental game skills, which are so critical to their attitude and performance in sports.

If a child shows an interest in soccer, it's a parent's job to help the child pursue that interest by providing access to teams and equipment and by supporting the coach and the team.

It's not a parent's job to push the child into playing.

More: 3 Sports Psychology Tips for Parents

However, it's a good idea to introduce a young child to a few sports. For example, you might enroll a 5-year-old in a kick-and-chase soccer class for one season, and try a basketball class another season. See what—if anything—sparks the child's interest.

In addition, Mango agrees that focusing on a kid's mental game is critical.

"The mental game side is all about what the athlete believes," he said. "This belief is what makes the biggest difference in how athletes act. Attitude and belief about what one can accomplish are essential to any possibility of achieving anything."

Pushing Through Resistance

However, some kids resist mental game training. You need to tell them that with a stronger mental game, athletes improve their consistency, boost their confidence, improve their focus and learn how to practice smarter.

More: Young Athletes and Perfectionism

Remind your athletes that they're not broken or dysfunctional if they engage in mental game training. The mental game can be improved with practice just like physical skill. Many pros rely on sports psychology to improve their confidence and performance.

Next time your young athletes say they're not talented enough to improve their performance, remind them that talent isn't everything.

To achieve excellence, they need to grow their talents through focused and effective practice and get the mental edge with sport psychology.

More: Young Athletes and Perfectionism
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About the Author

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and youth sports psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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