Sports Psychology Secrets

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: What Sports Parents Need to Know

As sports parents, we worry so much about our kids learning the correct physical technique or mechanics in their sports…but about their mental approach?

For example, what should you say to your youngster if they’re getting visibly nervous or moody before a game?

Is it okay if they develop certain rituals or superstitions as part of their pre-game prep?

Dan McGinn, who is a sports parent himself, has written a new book entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, and I was eager to interview on my radio show this AM. Dan serves as a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, and has a real passion for sports psychology, which as most of you know, is a long-time passion of mine as well.

Dan’s book touches on a number of competitive fields, whether it be sports…or business…or in the performing arts. But the main theme that underlies all of his stories and insights is what do successful individuals do in order to assure that each performance is a good one. And Dan underscores some of the important myths and misconceptions of pre-game psychological preparation.

For example, he suggests that parents can help their athletes get ready for a game by simply reminding them of previous successful games they have enjoyed in the past. Kids love to reflect on happy times, and the more specific you can be in your jogging their memory, the better. “Hey, John, remember that game last year when you made that nifty move late in the game, and you ended up scoring a key goal?” Bringing back those wonderful moments not only makes your child feel good, but it also lifts their sense of self-confidence.

And if you have video of some of their better games, playing that for them also reinforces the good vibes.


Dan confessed that he used to follow a pattern of “definitive pessimism” with his own kids. That is, in an attempt to soften or damp down possible disappointment, Dan would tell his kids: “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for this tryout…that is, there will always be more tryouts if this one doesn’t go well.” This kind of pessimistic approach set his kids up to expect failure, rather than to prepare for success. It’s clearly something that while you might be tempted to say, you want to instead pump them up to succeed.


He also talked about pre-game jitters and anxiety. He and I both agree that it’s up you, as the parent, to assure your son or daughter that being nervous or anxious before a game is not to be avoided but to be embraced. Being full of adrenaline is your body’s way of telling you that it’s ready to perform at a peak level. And that, of course, is a good thing.

So, instead of trying to repress one’s nervousness, tell your youngster to look forward to it…that it’s actually a key advantage.

One more major point: Superstitions and pre-game rituals DO work. Let your athlete wear the same pair of socks, or eat the same meal, or whatever. Allowing them to go through the same pre-game pattern allows them to psychologically focus on the task at hand, and to experience a sense of comfort as they get ready. What they DON’T want is to be placed in a setting where they are so busy focusing on different outside distractions that they can’t prepare for their best performance. That also includes their choice of music in the car on the way to the game!

So, if a superstition or ritual is something they do, don’t worry about it. Just embrace it!

Again, the book is entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, by Daniel McGinn. It’s available in bookstores everywhere or order a copy from Amazon. I heartily recommend it to all sports parents and coaches.

PS – I have my own book on sports psychology secrets coming forth in January 2018. That book attempts to explode many of the myths and misconceptions of what really works with top and elite athletes – -and what doesn’t. I’ll be writing more about my book in the weeks to come.