Many parents enrol their children in sports to build their child’s character and self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the feeling of self-worth that determines how valuable and competent we feel.

Child playing tee-ballThe interactions kids have with teammates, coaches, officials and parents shape how kids feel about themselves.

Critical periods for boosting or reducing self-esteem occur in a child’s young life and again at adolescence. Coaches and parents are both very important role models for young athletes.

Sports experiences can positively or negatively affect a child’s self-esteem.

This article lets you know:

  • How sports affects kids’ self-esteem.
  • What coaches and parents can do to enhance self-esteem in young athletes.

How Sports Affects Kids’ Self-Esteem
Children’s experiences in sports can affect their self-esteem. Relationships with parents, coaches and teammates can all affect self-esteem.

A positive self-esteem is key to psychological well-being. Children who have a positive self-esteem are better able to cope with wins and losses in sports and life.

These enhanced coping skills can translate into lifetime benefits such as:

  • Reduced anxiety.
  • A more optimistic outlook on life.
  • Fewer interpersonal problems.
  • Less chance of conforming to social pressure.
  • A better body image.
  • Being less likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as drug use.

Children with a negative self-esteem are more likely to:

  • Be depressed
  • Have eating disorders
  • Engage in risky behaviours
  • Not participate in sports or physical activity
  • Get bullied

Self-esteem can be enhanced by positive experiences in sports. Children’s self-esteem can be improved by being good at sports or in a particular sport.

Coaches, families and teammates can bolster an athlete’s self-esteem by creating a supportive environment that celebrates the athlete’s skill development and includes positive social relationships.

On the other hand, children’s self-esteem can plummet when they feel inadequate, unfit or unpopular.

How Can Coaches Enhance Self-Esteem in Young Athletes?
Being positive, respectful, inclusive and keeping sport in perspective are key aspects of a positive sporting environment. These factors can enhance coach-athlete relationships and help build positive self-esteem.

Children who participate in highly competitive or intense environments may have more feelings of low self-worth when they lose a game. Wins and losses can be more important to some kids than the physical abilities they develop by being involved in the sport.

The coach can help to refocus these negative emotions by letting the team know:

  • What they did well in the game.
  • What they learned from the game.
  • What they could improve for the next game or practice.

A good relationship with their coach can improve children’s self-esteem. A positive coach-athlete relationship is based on mutual respect. The coach can offer sincere, positive encouragement and recognize the athlete’s effort.

Good communication skills are key to the coach-athlete relationship. Coaches need to be able to communicate with the athlete and to listen to what the athlete says, both verbally and in body language. 

If an athlete misbehaves during a game or practice, the coach still needs to make it clear that the “bad behaviour” is undesirable, not the child.

Children misbehave as a method of learning and testing boundaries in sports and in life. The coach can help the child by identifying what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

It’s very important for coaches to be inclusive and to reject discrimination or stereotyping based on gender, race, age, ethnicity, body size, sexual orientation or ability.

Coaches are important role models for children and are responsible for creating a positive environment that includes good sportsmanship and fair-play.

The coach can develop good sports conduct in the players by being a positive role model. Good sports conduct includes:

  • Shaking hands with opponents after a game
  • Showing concern for injured players on both teams
  • Accepting referees’ decisions
  • Congratulating excellent effort
  • Giving credit to opponents
  • Celebrating wins respectfully

Coaches can enhance athletes’ self-esteem using some of the following strategies:

  • Encouraging children to set personal and realistic goals. (A good strategy is to ask children to set personal goals at the beginning of each practice or game that they can realistically achieve that day.)
  • Ensuring that all athletes experience some form of success and acknowledging these successes.
  • Giving children responsibilities and leadership opportunities on the team. The athlete’s responsibilities should not be based on their ability to play the sport.
  • Teaching new sports skills at the beginning of the season and working on them throughout the season. Don’t teach a new skill at playoff time or at a more intense or competitive time.
  • Always acting as a role model (kids see everything). Kids will model your behaviour and attitudes on and off the playing field.

How Can Parents Enhance Self-Esteem in Young Athletes?
Parents are also important role models. Try to give your children a balanced life that includes sports but is not overwhelmed by them.

Children need the chance to play with friends and participate in social activities other than sports. This helps kids understand that their self-worth is not solely based on their athletic ability.

You can bolster your child’s self-esteem using some of the following strategies:

  • Ask “how the game went” versus “did you win?”
  • Encourage your child to focus on the team and the child’s personal game highlight rather than on whether the team won or lost.
  • Let your children talk about their feelings during and after the game. This can help solve any frustrations or problems in non-violent ways.
  • Although it’s important to talk about your child’s sporting experience, don’t let conversations at home be dominated by sports (such as evaluating your child’s performance, talking about opponents).
  • Help your kids experience the fun in playing sports such as being part of a team, making new friends, travelling to other communities, learning new skills and getting some physical activity!

 Sports can have a positive impact on kids’ self-esteem. Coaches and parents can enhance children’s self-esteem by:

  • Being a positive role model.
  • Focusing on accomplishments.
  • Acknowledging individual success.
  • Giving athletes responsibilities and leadership opportunities.

Learn More
Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues
This website will allow you to find the community league in your area, as well as information on summer and winter sports programs.

Association for Applied Sport Psychology
Lots of information for parents and coaches in the “For Parents” and “For Coaches” sections.

Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sports and Physical Activity (CAAWS)
CAAWS works to ensure that girls and women have access to a complete range of opportunities and choices and have equity as participants and leaders in sport and physical activity.

Canadian Sport For Life
In this website you’ll find information explaining the importance of sport for all ages and stages by giving children the skills that they need to develop Physical Literacy for both healthy life long enjoyment and for sporting success. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, an athlete or coach you’ll find details which will help you deliver quality programs.

Coaching Association of Canada
The Coaching Association of Canada offers some coaching tips and tools that may help you to make a difference in the lives of those you coach.

Institute for International Sport: National Sportsmanship Day
National Sportsmanship Day is celebrated in more than 14,000 schools throughout the United States, as well as in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, India, Australia and Bermuda. See this website for some suggestions for team discussions about sportsmanship.

Related Topics
Creating Positive Relationships to Manage Conflict