Taking ownership over training, development, and performance can help athletes feel more in control, boosting their enjoyment and motivation. For athletes to feel more in control, it requires cooperation with parents, coaches, and trainers, sometimes sharing ideas (once) and sitting back while young athletes make what may feel like good or bad choices… resisting urges to intervene.

Obstacles to Ownership

1) Good but Flawed Intentions- Coaches might fear losing a job.  Parents may worry that without high performance, the cost of sport participation isn’t “worth it.”

2) Triangulation- a “hero” figure might dive in to “save” an athlete from an overbearing coach or parent, preventing the athlete from learning how to advocate for themselves.

3) “Tiger Parenting”- strict rules, pushiness, and parent over-involvement can rob youth athletes of their independence.

4) Ineffective Communication- too aggressive or passive communication can create a pattern of conflict that prevents athletes from learning how to appropriately handle adversity.

Undermining Effect of Rewards

Small occasional “bribes” can fuel motivation because athletes might justify their commitment, saying it was more about their own motivation (e.g., “I didn’t care about the ice cream Dad bought me after… I played because I wanted to play). However, big gifts, scholarships, fame (big or small), and parental approval are some examples of external motivators that can make an athlete question their command over their athletic path. These incentives can also undermine internal drive to succeed, as motivation becomes more about rewards and less about joys of playing.

Athlete Development

As athletes mature, freedoms can/should be granted to boost feelings of ownership. Allowing them to play a variety of sports as a child, and choose which one to pursue more seriously as they get older, are crucial steps for cultivating independent initiative-taking athletes. Allowing for this space can contribute to an “I can” attitude, fostering initiative in sport involvement and performance.

Fostering Ownership

There are several ways to promote an athlete taking responsibility for development and performance:

  • Help them become aware of their values
  • Let go of parental/coach control and avoid micro-managing
  • Listen to and validate athletes’ needs and feelings (you can show empathy for emotions even if you don’t agree with decisions)
  • Encourage accountability for personal growth
  • Avoid judgement and allow athletes to directly explore their own desire to change their training/sport involvement
  • Teach them how to communicate assertively

This post is a small preview of an upcoming book chapter that Dr. Herzog has helped write! The book, Comprehensive Applied Sport Psychology: From Attitude to Athletic Success and Everything Between and Beyond, edited by Dr. Jim Taylor, will be published soon.