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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Youth Sports


Youth Sports Goal Settings

Ken Kaiserman

New Year's day means different things to different people. Certainly, spending time with family and friends and watching some great college bowl games. In our house, a new year also means making resolutions.

It started about 15 years ago when my wife and I were on a ski trip together - before kids. It was one of those days in Taos, New Mexico where the snow was coming down so heavy that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. For some people, the fresh powder might make for great snow conditions, but for us, it was a great day to sit by the huge fire in the ski lodge and "plan our lives".

We had a great talk that included when we wanted to have kids, financial planning and lots of resolutions - including our goals for work, working out, sports, and how we wanted to work out our relationships with the people in our lives. Believe it or not, we sat there for 9 hours and we had fun doing it. Now, every year, we talk about goals with our kids.

All of our kids already have goals, but they may not share them with us. Our job as parents is to help them focus on the correct goals, help them achieve their goals, and later, we need to help them deal with the disappointment of not reaching their goals.

Goal Setting With Kids

The first thing we need to work on with all of our kids is education. For each kid, at every age, they can focus on their schoolwork; improve their skills, and getting their homework done on time. Of course, they can also work on their relationships with parents and their siblings - something that never seems exactly where it should be. However, as you know, we at SportsKids are all about youth sports - so let's focus on sports.

All the kids I know say they are going to be professional athletes. Now, there are some kids who say they are going to be doctors, lawyers, business people, the president of the United States, or something else, but again, this is SportsKids. My eight year old son, who doesn't really know who Danny Ainge is, wants to follow in his footsteps and be both a professional basketball player as well as a professional baseball player.

Now, maybe some of our kids will end up being professional athletes, but the statistics say otherwise. Most kids won't be playing organized sports past the age of 12. Very few high school athletes will ever play NCAA Division I sports and almost none of those will ever play professionally. Knowing this, of course, shouldn't diminish our kid's dreams - that's what they are supposed to be doing - dreaming! So, as parents we have to help our kids reach their potential.

How Should We Help Our Kids?

Keith Hirabayashi is a good friend of mine. Many of you may not know who Keith is, but if you like martial arts you would know; he has been five time Grand Champion at the US World and US Open Karate Tournaments. He was named Weapons Competitor of the Decade, thanks to his expertise with the staff, the broadsword, and the three-sectional staff. He's a member of The Black Belt Hall of Fame, The Inside Kung-Fu Hall of Fame, and The Fighter Hall of Fame. In addition, he's been listed among the 100 Most Influential Martial Artists of the Last Century by Black Belt magazine. I've had many talks with Keith about goal setting and how he reached the pinnacle of his sport.

Nobody who starts out is great their first day, but they can think big. The trick, as Keith taught me, is to break your dream into manageable steps - something that's hard to do, but achievable. When Mr. Hirabayashi first started Wushu as a boy, he couldn't envision becoming "Competitor Of The Year" so he started with something easier. There was a kid in his class who was "great". So, Keith wanted to one day be as good as that guy. One day, he was that good. Then, he wanted to be as good as the assistant teacher.

Finally, he surpassed his teacher, became the best in the world and now founded Champions Martial Arts, a studio in Brentwood, California.

In order to accomplish each of these resolutions and goals, there are a few rules that you need to follow. You need to know what you are trying to accomplish. The goal needs to be specific, measurable, and have a time limit. A person also needs to know why they want to reach the goal and then lay out a real, manageable plan on how to accomplish their goal.

Being a great martial artist, or being great at anything, requires a plan. Start by setting small goals to ultimately reach a larger goal and understand each step. A kid needs to layout a plan for practice, competition and study of their sport. Realizing that practice makes permanent, parents need to make sure their kids are practicing the right fundamentals. Playing a sport only during the organized practices and the games won't get a kid to reach their potential. If your child plays an instrument, you wouldn't allow them to not practice between lessons. "Pistol" Pete Maravich, one of the 50 greatest NBA players, practiced literally all the time because he knew that some other kid was practicing and getting better than he was. Set small, measurable and achievable goals, lay out a path of how the goals will be accomplished, and then watch the results.

Dealing With Disappointment

Starting with the premise that our kids aren't going to reach their ultimate goal of becoming a professional athlete should in no way diminish the benefits of dreaming, setting goals, and working to accomplish each of the resolutions. It's imperative not to forget the many benefits to playing youth sports, including teamwork, good sportsmanship, developing motor skills, learning to win and to lose, and the friendships that are created along the way. Most of our kids will figure out and realize for themselves that they won't be a professional athlete, but if we help them set small, achievable goals, practice proper fundamentals, and set out a specific plan to accomplish their goals, all of them will benefit and maybe some will actually be able to fulfill their dreams. It all starts by setting your New Year's resolutions.

Copyright Ken Kaiserman -

Ken Kaiserman is the president of , a leading youth sports website featuring games, sports news, sports camp and league directories, community features, and Kid Sports with over 150,000 products.

Ken coaches youth football, basketball and baseball. He also serves on the local little league board of directors as well as the Park Advisory Board. You can read and subscribe to the SportsKids blogs at

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