‘Courage Before Confidence.’ How to use sports as a powerful life teaching tool…

A lot of parents are raising little athletes. We want them to do well in sports, but are we placing emphasis on the wrong thing?

Dr. Tom Golightly shares lessons our kids should learn in sports to help them throughout their lives.


Be a Smart Sport Parent

Every soccer mom wants their child to thrive, but are we focusing our efforts on the wrong things? Do we care too much about winning and not enough about the life skills sports are teaching our kids? Knowing the potential lessons sports are teaching our kids can help us be more supportive parents.

Here are three things you don’t want sports teaching your kids:

1. Individual (and Family) Identity of “Athlete”

When we are too invested in sports, we run the risk of our children forming their identity around their title of “athlete.” The main growth area of adolescence is forming identity and figuring out how to interact with the world. More and more children are specializing in sports at an earlier age than fifteen to twenty years ago. This increased involvement leaves individuals at risk of over-identifying with his or her chosen sport. Teach your children that they are more than an athlete by developing other skills outside of athletics.

2. Outcome-based Worth

It is imperative to remember that a very small fraction of young athletes will earn scholarships to college or advance to elite levels of sport. Sometimes the drive to win or be elite leads children and adolescents to believe that their worth is based on whether they win or lose, or progress to that next level of competition. If we over emphasize the winning aspect of sports we risk our children tying their self-worth to the success of their game.

3. Unhealthy Comparisons

As an athlete, your child will learn how to compare themselves to others at a young age. This is not only a bad strategy for performance, it’s a bad skill to carry over into life. Often we think that confidence comes from favorable comparisons with others but this mindset only perpetuates negative qualities such as arrogance. Confidence is about self-belief and knowing what you do well, on your own accord.


Here are three things you hope sports will teach your kids:

1. Courage Over Confidence

Many coaches and athletes feel that confidence is the key to excellent performances. While confidence is certainly developed in sport, we should aim to teach our children courage. There is a large amount of fear involved with sport – fear of failure, of injury, of embarrassment. Learning to be courageous and take risks is a life skill.

2. Process vs. Outcome

Mistakes are part of being human – there are no perfect performances. Lessons from sports come from the preparation, effort, and attitude developed. They do not come from winning or the outcome of a game. Losing (and the pain associated with losing) is a tool that fosters growing opportunities. It helps us evaluate our processes and re-double our efforts to improve.

3. Interdependence

We learn so much about cooperation, team work, and interpersonal interactions through sport performance. Sports that seem more individual in nature still work with coaches, peers, mentors, and others as they seek feedback. People skills are innately taught within sporting communities. Reaching towards a common goal is a necessary life skill.

Dr. Tom Golightly is the Associate Clinical Director for BYU Counseling and Psychological Services. He is responsible for treating a variety of mental health issues in order to help student-athletes remove any obstacles preventing successful academic and sport performance. He is also tasked with teaching two courses for the University – Performance Psychology and Contemporary Issues for student-athletes.

Tom received his BA in psychology and Italian from the University of Arizona, later going on to receive his MS and Ph.D. in counseling psychology at BYU. He is the husband and father of Shawna, his wife, and their four children, Tyler, Sarah, Brandon, and Elise.