Confidence a key to youth sports participation

Justis column: Young athletes quit when self-esteem is low


Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Justis Creative Communications.

How many of you parents have struggled with the decision of allowing your child to quit playing a sport, resulting in the loss of being part of something bigger than himself or herself and the opportunity of building confidence and self-esteem?

Wanting to quit a sport much of the time is because of lack of playing time, which can be a result of a lack of confidence. And confidence, according to James Leath of Changing the Game, is a “byproduct of two things: proper preparation and adults who believe in them.

“From a small child to the world’s greatest athletes, those who are confident are confident because they have taken thousands of shots, tried and failed many times, then tried again and got it right.”

Mike Farley, a Positive Coaching Alliance trainer, said the child has two choices. The sport is not fun at the level the child is playing at and thus could choose a less competitive program or pick a different sport; or accept the fact playing on a high-level team is a great honor and they can benefit from playing any role within that team.

If he or she chooses the first option, they “still should stick out the season. That may buy enough time ... to realize more of (his or her) potential or to fully recognize (the) weaknesses ... Only in rare cases (i.e., inconsolable grief, not just annoyance or frustration) would I allow a child to quit during the season.

“One great life lesson is to finish what you start.”

If the child chooses the second option, Farley said the coach should be asked what “do I need to do to get more playing time? Be a sponge, learn more and improve.”


In his “The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to the Kids,” Leath noted it is very important that adults in a child’s life are confidence builders.

l Model the discipline, hard work and self-belief. They must control their own emotions and choose words wisely.

l Coaches must demonstrate to players they believe they were prepared. “Players cannot trust themselves to perform well unless they are trusted by others to do the same.”

l Do not do things for children that they can do for themselves. Give them the responsibility for their own actions and decisions. Encourage them to take risks and allow them to fail. Do not make excuses or blame others.

l Do not shelter children from failure. Shower them with praise when they succeed. Studies show the fear of failure is usually caused by parents and develops when children are under the age of 10. “Youth sports should be the safest place for them to experience failure for the first time.”

I found the following poem written by Walter D. Wintle in my research. I am going to frame it for my young athlete grandson. It’s titled “Thinking.”

If you think you are beaten, you are,

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you think you like to win, but you think you can’t,

It is almost certain you won’t.


If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost.

For out in the world we find,

Success begins with a fellow’s will.

It’s all in the state of mind.


If you think you’re outclassed, you are,

You’ve got to think high to rise,

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.


Life’s battles, don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man.

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!”

l Let us know what you think. Send comments to

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.



She calls them her "little pieces of gold."Cindee Lee-Voeller has been hoarding the tiny pink pills as if they truly were pieces of gold. They buy her time, energy and the chance to live normally. To her, the oxycodone is invaluab ...

IOWA CITY - College for generations has been, in many ways, about class. Sitting in one, perhaps developing some, and often establishing yourself apart from the social one of your upbringing. But what if it wasn't about class? Wh ...

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.