How Sports Parents Can Reward Learning

Self-confidence might be the most fragile and yet most important asset your child has. It is made up of a set of fundamental beliefs about “self” that have been formulated over the years by listening and watching the messages coming from you, the parent.

As both a credible and primary influence in a child’s young life, what you appear to believe is true about your child is what he or she believes is true. Therefore, the messages you consistently send have a huge impact on the amount of confidence a child has in self.
 The question is, where will he/she find his/her source of confidence – in his/her talents, OR in his/her ability to learn?

Research by Carol Dweck of Stanford University indicates that children demonstrate more confidence and achieve more when praised for their hard work to solve a problem than praise for their intelligence or physical gifts.

“Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life,” she wrote in Scientific American.

Therefore, it’s more important for an athlete to gain confidence from overcoming an obstacle than from getting a skill on the first try.

Since overcoming an obstacle means unsuccessful attempts along the way, it’s important to send the following messages to your child.

  • Unsuccessful attempts are valuable opportunities for learning.
  • We value learning more than instant success.
  • Facing a tough opponent increases your learning, even in a loss.
  • Your effort and hard work is admired and will always pay off.

Try This “Reward Learning” Exercise

Review the following examples of two kinds of praise. Then take some time to record on paper your messages about effort and learning.

Limiting Praise: Talent-based, where gifts are praised

  • "You’re so smart”
  • "You’re so talented that you got it right away.”
  • "You’re finished that so quickly.”
  • "You didn’t make any mistakes on that drill.”
  • "You’re the best one out there so you’ll win next time.”

Non-limiting Praise: Effort-based, where learning is praised

  • “I admire how you stuck with that practice drill until you got it.”
  • “Your hard work on that skill is really paying off.”
  • “I’m excited to see you stretching yourself to learn new techniques.”
  • “You really prepared for that game and the results show it.”

As Dweck found in her own studies of young children, “Students praised for their hard work did not lose confidence when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed.”

Everything Growing Champions For Life does is to help sport organizations create the most positive learning environment for athletes, parents, and coaches. I have shared our strategies with stakeholders in many sports. If you are interested in learning more about our in-person seminars and workshops, webinar series or online learning program, I would love to hear from you.

Now it is time for you to reward learning and continue Growing Champions For Life.

About the author

David Benzel
Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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