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How can parents let go and actually build independence in their kids through sport?

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Building Independence in Children through Sports: A Parent's Guide

Happy Independence Day!!!

I came across a Facebook yesterday from a woman who runs a country club. She was specifically talking about hiring lifeguards to work the pool during the summer. She went on to explain how lifeguards are typically late high school early college students and how she interviews hundreds of teens/young adults every summer. She described the candidates that she almost never hires and the ones that are less dependable once hired.

The number one barrier to the kids getting the job or being good at it was the ability to be independent. To work and think critically without the every day interference or help of a parent. (I've posted the actual article on my Facebook page I recommend is highly)

This got me thinking how can parents let go and actually build independence in their kids through sport?
So that is what I am sharing in today's aptly themed newsletter for 4th of July!
Helping your child build independence through sport is a fantastic way to instill valuable life skills. Here's a practical and inspiring approach using the Discover, Build, Apply process:

Discover: Understanding Independence in Sports

Identify Interests:

Observe your child’s natural inclinations and preferences. Whether it's soccer, gymnastics, swimming, or tennis, discover what genuinely excites them.

Set Realistic Goals:

Work with your child to set achievable and clear goals. These could range from learning a new technique to improving endurance.

Understand Their Current Skill Level:

Assess where your child stands in their chosen sport. This helps in creating a tailored plan that suits their development stage.

Build: Developing Skills and Confidence

Encourage Self-Directed Learning:

Motivate your child to practice on their own. Provide resources like videos, books, or online tutorials related to their sport.

Teach Responsibility:

Assign tasks related to their sport, such as packing their sports bag, maintaining their equipment, or keeping track of practice schedules.

Foster Decision-Making:

Allow your child to make choices during practice or games. For example, deciding which drill to do next or which strategy to employ during a match.

Model Independence:

Show by example. Share stories of your own experiences with independence and how it helped you grow.

Apply: Putting Skills into Practice

Create Practice Routines:

Help your child establish a consistent practice routine. Consistency builds discipline and self-motivation.

Celebrate Progress:

Acknowledge their efforts and improvements, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement boosts confidence and encourages continued effort.

Encourage Problem-Solving:

When faced with challenges, guide your child to think through solutions rather than providing immediate answers. This develops critical thinking and resilience.

Support Their Journey:

Be there to support, not to control. Attend their games and practices, offering constructive feedback and encouragement without overshadowing their autonomy.

Practical Tips:

Provide Resources:

Equip them with the necessary gear and tools to practice independently.

Involve Coaches:

Communicate with their coaches about your goal to build independence and collaborate on strategies.

Balance Guidance with Freedom:

Offer help when needed but also step back to let them take ownership of their journey.

Mindset Shift:

Embrace Mistakes:

Teach your child that mistakes are part of the learning process. Encourage them to learn from setbacks and keep pushing forward.

Promote Self-Reflection:

After practices or games, have a debrief session where your child reflects on what they did well and what they can improve.

By implementing these steps, you're not only helping your child become a better athlete but also equipping them with the independence and confidence they need to thrive in all areas of life. Remember, the journey is as important as the destination. Celebrate each step your child takes towards independence!

For more tips on supporting your child’s athletic journey, stay tuned to our newsletter or reach out to us directly (reply to this email or book a free 15 min consultation here). We’re here to help you and your young athlete succeed!

If you are a coach and what more specifics on support Independence in your athletes check out my book, “How to Teach Mental Skills to Athletes: Confident, Calm, and Clutch Coaching Companion - The Ultimate Guide to Coaching Mental Toughness”


Car ride conversations are designed to help you open up lines of communication between you and your kid around sport, mental toughness, stress, pressure, confidence, etc. Some topics will be fun, some difficult, others thought provoking. The goal is to create meaningful dialogue with your child. Do your best to be open, honest and LISTEN.

This week's topic of conversation is: Independence
Engaging your young athlete in meaningful conversation during a car ride can provide insights into their mindset and help guide them towards a growth-oriented perspective. Here are some thoughtful questions to ask:

Ask your kid:

Engaging your child in conversations that encourage independence can be both insightful and empowering. Here are three conversation prompts that can help:

Prompt 1: Goal-Setting and Reflection

Question: "What are some personal goals you’d like to achieve in your sport this season, and how do you think you can work towards them on your own?"

This question encourages your child to think about their ambitions and take responsibility for their progress. It also opens up a dialogue about planning and self-motivation.

Prompt 2: Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Question: "Can you think of a time during practice or a game when things didn’t go as planned? What did you do, and what might you do differently next time?"

This prompt helps your child reflect on their experiences, understand the importance of problem-solving, and consider alternative approaches. It reinforces the idea that they are capable of handling challenges independently.

Prompt 3: Self-Assessment and Improvement
Question: "What do you think are your strengths in your sport, and which areas do you want to improve? How can you work on those improvements by yourself?"

This question promotes self-awareness and encourages your child to take initiative in their personal development. It highlights the value of self-assessment and independent effort in achieving growth.

Tips for Effective Conversations:
Listen Actively:
Show genuine interest in their responses. This builds trust and reinforces their confidence in making independent decisions.

Encourage Thoughtfulness:
Give them time to think and articulate their thoughts. Avoid rushing to provide solutions.

Positive Reinforcement:
Acknowledge their ideas and efforts. Positive feedback boosts their confidence and encourages continued independence.

By using these prompts, you'll help your child develop a mindset of self-reliance and proactive thinking, both of which are crucial for building independence through sport and beyond.

For more tips like this join my newsletter! You can sign up at


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Hi, I Am ValErie Alston

Certified Mental Performance Consultant

Resilience Trainer and Performance Expert for the Army


Former D1 Softball Player

Crossfit Enthusiast

Avid Traveler and lover of food

And Awesome Auntie!