Dear Coach Bryant:

My sophomore son didn’t make the cut for the varsity baseball team. The coach usually takes only juniors and seniors, but occasionally makes exceptions. This year he chose one sophomore. Since my son wasn’t the one selected, his confidence took a beating.

Now this kid, who has played confidently all his life, is making a lot of errors, both in practice and games. Each mistake leaves him more worried that he won’t get the looks he needs from college coaches. We’ve planned to use our spring and summer vacations to visit several top tier college baseball programs, and play in several showcases, but he’s acting anxious about those trips.

What can I do to help him out of his slump?

Concerned in California

Dear Concerned:

There are several things you can do. Here’s what I suggest parents consider when their child needs more than a pep talk:

Help them refocus.

Parents know the important role physical conditioning plays in sports training. But sometimes parents aren’t as aware of the importance of mental conditioning. While everyone makes mistakes, successful athletes learn to train their minds to overcome those mistakes. Anyone intent on playing college sports must work on their mental game; they must learn to respond appropriately (and recover quickly) when things don’t go well. That’s why I refer players to sports psychologists as routinely as I refer to athletic trainers. Sports psychologists can help young athletes refocus, developing mental strategies that will help them for years to come.

Help them recover.

Parents should not talk about their children’s mistakes. If parents repeatedly hold what-went-wrong reviews, children will feel defined by their mistakes. Instead, young athletes should be encouraged to learn and move on. If an athlete continues to make the same mistakes a parent might consider bringing in a private coach to work on whatever is causing the performance breakdown. 

Help them reevaluate.

While no parent wants to crush their child’s dreams, a confidence break is a good time to reevaluate whether a high school athlete has unrealistic expectations. Sophomore year is an excellent time for families to start exploring all college possibilities, with a particular focus on schools that are financially, athletically and academically feasible. An expanded search can provide a huge confidence boost, as student-athletes see the long list of coaches who would be highly interested in having them play.

Help them recharge.

I’ve seen many of my college tennis players come back from an extended break and play their best tennis ever. It might be that your son needs a real family vacation – hiking or playing on the beach – more than he needs a showcase tour. Whatever you decide to do for the summer, it’s important to remember that all families need to spend time together every week, all year long, doing something that they enjoy that has nothing to do with their child’s sport.

The Reality

When a child seems to be digging a low-confidence hole, it’s time to reassess. Consider what might be contributing to the situation. Seek whatever help is needed to shore up mental conditioning. Take breaks whenever necessary. Most of all, don’t let your child feel limited by the attention –or inattention– of a specific coach or school. Make sure your child understands that there are multiple options out there that can help overcome any slump.

All the best,

Amy