If you have young athletes, you’ve probably wondered at least once if you’re encouraging them in an appropriate way — are you providing the right amount of positive reinforcement or are you being too assertive?

Sometimes, it’s hard not to overstep your boundaries, especially with little ones. However, creating a thriving and positive environment for your kids helps them learn, grow, and develop confidence, motivation and even independence.

But like all of us, even young athletes get discouraged. When your little ones need some extra motivation, use these seven tips for encouraging them in just the right way:

1. Don’t Be the Only Source of Your Child’s Motivation

When your children lose motivation, we understand that you may want to share your own desires and motivations in hopes it’ll help stir confidence to continue their sport. However, it’s important for children to develop their own self-confidence and the ability to take control of what honestly motivates them.

But, this isn’t to say that you can’t help them find their motivation in times of discouragement. Encouragement is key, but don’t be the only reason behind why your children are playing their respective sports. They should be playing for themselves, and no one else.

2. Encourage Your Child’s Dream

Kids’ dreams can sometimes seem, well, unachievable. However, it’s important to be a cheerleader for their aspirations, no matter how imaginative.

If they aspire to be a professional athlete when they grow up, let them. There’s no harm in it. And they might have a new dream tomorrow.

Having aspirational goals, no matter how seemingly impossible, is important for not only motivating the young athletes in your family but also to help them move forward with the sport they’re currently playing. Encouraging their dreams allows your children to know that you see their potential.

3. Determine What Motivates (and Discourages) Your Child

One way to encourage the young athletes in your family is with what motivates them. Ask yourself a couple of questions to help find what that is: What excites them about playing the sport? Is it their friends, the competition, or being a part of a team?

If you can pinpoint what’s the most exciting aspect of the sport, you can use it to help instill self-motivation in your tiny athlete to move forward with meeting their goals.

And just as importantly, figure out what’s discouraging for your children. Is it losing a game? Or do they not feel a part of the team? Determining what is (or could be) discouraging for them will help you understand the kind of support they really need from you.

4. Encourage Your Child to Develop a Fighting Spirit

To succeed at anything your children set their mind to, they must have a fighting spirit — the strength to continue and reach their goals no matter the obstacles.

If your children can maintain a positive spirit throughout their practice, games and even at home, they will have a better time gaining the strength and self-confidence to move forward and succeed.

Additionally, this is an important lesson to learn for all children even outside of sports. A fighting spirit will not only help them succeed within their sport of choice, but they’ll also be able to apply it later in life while in school and the workplace.

One way to help your child develop a fighting spirit is simply through encouragement and recognition of their efforts. If you can show unconditional support throughout your children’s success (and even losses), they can create and maintain positivity for themselves even during situations that can cause low morale.

5. Don’t Bombard Your Child With Questions

When your tired athletes come home from practice or a game, it can be hard not to ask them 21 questions. However, asking tons of questions can put unintended pressure on your children.

Instead of too many questions, try sticking to one question and two statements. If they just finished with a game or practice, try: “Did you have fun? I’m proud of you. I love you.” If they’re about to practice or play a game, try: “Have fun. I’m proud of you. I love you.”

Learn more about how positive coaching can help your budding athlete >

6. Offer Options Outside of Your Child’s Regular Practice Schedule

Practice time can be super fun, but like any schedule (no matter how old you are), it can get boring and tedious. Try switching things up a bit by offering to drive your children to places like the gym or other establishments in which they can work on their sport in a new setting.

For example, Mountain Kids offers programs and special events that your children can attend outside of their normal practice time. If your children are interested, try out day camps during the summer. Or, look for events in your area that could lead to additional learning within their respective sports and a ton of fun.

7. Let Your Child Learn From Loss

No one likes losing, and for children who are just now developing their self-confidence, it can really do a number on their morale. However, modern day society is preventing children from learning from loss by removing scores from games and even grades on academic tests.

So, it’s important to let your children experience losing a game in order for them to understand what true success really means and feels like, and so they’re more motivated to achieve their own goals.

Read more about finding learning opportunities through failure >

8. Sit Back, and Relax

When you’ve spent so much time watching your children progress in their specific sport, sometimes it can be difficult not to wonder what’s next. When will they get to the next level? When will that silver medal turn into gold?

But, remember: It’s not a race. So instead of continuously thinking about what the next step is for your children, sit back and relax. Enjoy watching your children have fun in their sport because, honestly — that’s what it’s really all about.

Find out about classes, programs and special events at Mountain Kids to encourage your little gymnast >