Positive Athletic Identity

from Baylor University


Whether kids are active and remain active into adulthood may have more to do with how highly their parents value their efforts than their actual performance on the field.

"Whether in algebra or athletics, what parents think of their kids' abilities tends to be identical to what kids themselves think," said Dr. Cheryl Anderson, a CNRC researcher and a Baylor assistant professor of pediatrics.

And, kids who have a good opinion of their abilities, something Anderson calls a positive 'athletic identity,' also tend to enjoy and value physical activity more -- increasing the likelihood that they will remain physically active into adulthood.

"Children aren't born with a clear sense of who they are or what is important. Instead, their identities and values are continuously shaped by what they learn from their parents and others as they grow," she said.

To help parents raise "positive athletic identity" kids, Anderson offers these tips:

  • Make Positive Experiences the Goal: Show kids that what makes you proud is their effort, not whether they get a trophy. "Even a child who is on a community team who sits on the bench most of the time can have a positive experience as long as she's with friends, building skills, and having fun -- it's OK to go slow," Anderson said.
  • Value Variety: Expose children to a variety of both individual and organized activities. "Each activity teaches kids skills that can make the next activity they try easier to learn and enjoy, which in turn builds confidence," she said.
  • Focus on Skills: Mastering skills helps build confidence.
  • "Everyone tends to dislike doing, and tends to devalue, things they are not good at," Anderson said. Skill building is particularly important for girls, who tend to already feel less athletically capable than boys when they enter first grade.
  • Give Feedback: Kids want you to watch, help, and praise them. Were their feet together? Head down?
  • No Pressure: It takes time to build skills, so avoid criticizing or pressuring children too much. Avoid pushing your dreams on your children.
  • Be Patient: It may take time for the child to find something they like to do. Some kids need more positive experiences than others before they enjoy an activity.