Child athletes perform better with a mastery approach to coaching, especially when their parents are also taught to reduce performance anxiety in their children. In a study published in the Journal of Youth Development (2007; 2 , article 0701FA002), University of Washington researchers provided a brief, one-time workshop to coaches and parents of 9- to 15-year-old boys and girls in one league of a community-based basketball program. The workshop taught an approach to sports that emphasized focusing on personal improvement, giving maximum effort, having fun, showing sportsmanship and supporting teammates, rather than winning at all costs. Coaches and parents of kids in another league (the control group) did not receive any training.
Preseason questionnaires showed that children in both groups had similar levels of performance anxiety. By contrast, at the end of the season, the youth athletes who were under the guidance of the parents and coaches who received the training had lower levels of physical stress and worry and a higher level of concentration than the other kids.
“We don’t ignore the importance of winning, because it is an important objective in all sports,” said researcher Frank Smoll. “But we place winning in its proper perspective. As a result, young athletes exposed to the mastery climate were able to concentrate more and they had less worries about their performance. Their bodies also reacted more positively. They were less tense, had fewer queasy stomachs and they didn’t experience feeling tight muscles.”