How to Manage Expectations: This Experience Belongs to your Child

How to Manage Expectations: This Experience Belongs to your Child

Parents and coaches play such a key role in a child’s development and enjoyment of their sports experience. Children’s’ top reason for playing sports is to have fun. As coaches and parents, we must do our part and prioritize the enjoyment to be had in sports. It’s what children want and need. Parents can help guide their children in sports, but children need to make the choices and set the expectations based on their wants and needs. Regardless of your child’s level of participation in gymnastics, his or her performance will be greatly influenced by expectations–and unwanted expectations can produce unwanted pressure and consistently result in subpar performance.

Expectations are often about outcomes and results, neither of which can be controlled, and this unproductive thinking can make children tense, tight and tentative. Expectations come from so many different sources; the coach that has a “win-at-all-cost” mentality and needs results to justify their existence, the parent who becomes overzealous in their attempts to inspire their child or worse–living vicariously through them, outside noise from fans or people wanting to win, or even from the child who might get caught in the trap of measuring self-worth by external success.

Parents are in a great position to help deflate this performance pressure by helping their children understand that the process of learning, and having fun is the most important thing to focus on. When children embody these types of expectations, taking them into their nervous systems, they relax, become calm, remain focused, and play their best. These are process expectations as opposed to outcome expectations. Here are four ways parents can let go of expectations and help their child enjoy sports more:

  1. Match the commitment level of your child. This experience belongs to your child, first, not you and it’s important to match their level of interest and commitment. Once sports start to become more about the parents and their want for competition, the activity becomes less fun for the actual child involved. Let the children lead the way on their expectations and commitment level.
  2. Be genuinely happy for them. Whether they win or lose, acknowledge your support and happiness watching them compete. The best thing a child wants to hear from their parents is “I love watching you play.”
  3. Provide balance in their lives. Life shouldn’t revolve around their sport only. Make sure there is a balance between their life outside of sports, and they are able to detach their self-worth from their performance results. When you only focus on gymnastics in your conversations and time spent with your child, then they will believe that gymnastics is the only thing you care about, and the only thing they should focus on. Encourage other activities for a mental and physical break, and well-rounded development of your child.
  4. Understand their goals. Ask your child what their goals are in gymnastics, and understand that your child’s goals might be different from yours. Their goals and expectations are more important in their gymnastics experience–learn what they want and care about most, and do your best to support them based on their wants and needs.

Positive Coaching Alliance stresses that if a young gymnast loves the game, then he or she will play longer and harder, which will, in turn, lead to more success. The way parents can inspire this love is by giving their child ownership over the experience, focusing on enjoyment, and making sure those things build their intrinsic motivation to participate in gymnastics. The only way children can truly improve is if they are the ones striving to get better.

Additional Resources:

USA Gymnastics is a proud partner of Positive Coaching Alliance- a national non-profit organization on a mission to serve as a catalyst for a positive youth sports culture in all communities across the U.S. To learn more about PCA, visit