How Mindful Sports Parenting Helps Children Excel

A new book offers a powerful counterintuitive approach for parents.

Posted Sep 13, 2016

//], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: By Runner1928 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The past few years have witnessed a dramatic increase in external locus of control among American college students (Twenge, Zhang, & Im, 2004) along with increased stress, anxiety, and depression (American College Health Association, 2008; Davey, Yücel, & Allen, 2008; Twenge, 2000). As research in my lab has shown, too many young people are deficient in optimism and hope—the ability to set goals, make plans, and follow through. They believe that something outside themselves—chance or powerful others instead of their own efforts —determines what happens in their lives (Dreher, Feldman, & Numan, 2014).

My research has found a significant connection between external locus of control and over-controlling parents who micromanage their children, trying to protect them from making mistakes but inadvertently undermining their development.

Psychologist Jerry Lynch’s new book, Let Them Play: The Power and Joy of Mindful Sports Parenting, offers parents a welcome alternative.  While his book focuses on parents of children in competitive sports, his advice extends beyond soccer, baseball, basketball, and track to successful performance in the game of life.

Lynch offers parents a change of focus from the rigidly organized and over-controlled athletic programs that produce fear, anxiety, and stress in their young athletes. As a national class athlete who has worked with championship teams and raised four athletic children, he sees sports as an opportunity for young people to develop vital strengths of hope, optimism, and self-reliance.  

Jerry Lynch, used with permission
Source: Jerry Lynch, used with permission

As a psychologist, Lynch says that while most micromanaging parents mean well, they “keep their children from developing self-reliance, vision, creativity, and courage.”(2016, p. 99) He counsels them, instead, to be mindful, to give their children love and compassion to support them as they play so they can take risks, enjoy the process and learn vital lessons from both their successes and their temporary setbacks.  

Lynch tells parents what he tells the champion athletes he coaches: to focus on process instead of outcome. He asks them to stop obsessing with their children about winning—which they cannot control—and encourage their young athletes to focus on what they can control: “all the little essentials that go into playing well.”  For example, in basketball, “these controllables might be crashing the boards, boxing out, diving for the loose ball, and sprinting back to play touch defense.”(p. 43)

And at the end of a game, he says parents can help their children develop what Carol Dweck (2006) has called a “growth mindset,” by asking “What went well?”—beginning with the positive--and then “What needs work?” to take their play to the next level, again focusing on the ongoing process of growth, learning, and discovery (Lynch, 2016, p. 47)

Above all, he Lynch encourages parents to “teach excellence, not winning,” an important reminder for all of us. For by focusing on excellence, “we force ourselves to dig down deep inside to discover what we are made of, ” (p. 148) learning valuable lessons about ourselves and our own possibilities.  


American College Health Association. (2008). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment Spring 2007 reference group data report (abridged). (ACHA-NCHA). Journal of American College Health, 56, 469-480.

Davey, C. G., Yücel, M., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The emergence of depression in adolescence: Development of the prefrontal cortex and the representation of reward. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, 32, 1-19.

Dreher, D.E., Feldman, D. B., & Numan, R. (2014). Controlling parents survey: Measuring the influence of parental control on personal development in college students. College Student Affairs Journal, 32, 97-111.

Dweck, Carol. S. (2006). Mindset. New York, NY: Ballentine Books.

Lynch, J. (2016). Let Them Play: The Power and Joy of Mindful Sports Parenting. Novato, CA: New World Library.For more information about Jerry Lynch, see

Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1007-1021.

Twenge, J. M., Zhang, L., & Im, C. (2004). It’s beyond my control: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of increasing externality in locus of control, 1960-2002. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 308-319.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web sites at