Momentum Sports Group

Nurturing Athletes: Top 5 Mistakes Parents Make and How to Avoid Them

Nurturing Athletes: Top 5 Mistakes Parents Make and How to Avoid Them

September 2023

Read time: 8 minutes

Parenting is extremely rewarding, but it can have its difficulties. We understand that raising young athletes can often be both thrilling and challenging, and that the journey through sports is often paved with a mix of victories and defeats. But above all else, it’s lined with valuable life lessons. While it’s natural to want the best for your children, there are some common mistakes that parents can unintentionally fall into along the way. I have seen hundreds of athletes, both in my experience when I was a young player and later in life as a coach, who have lost interest in the sport they love or were unable to reach their full potential in some part due to to the pressures they felt from their own parents to improve and succeed. Let’s explore what I believe to be the top 5 mistakes parents of athletes can make and some suggestions on how to avoid them:


1. Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes it is a case of a parent wanting their child to recreate their own experiences in a certain sport, and they end up living vicariously through them. In other instances, parents hope for children to earn scholarships to ease the financial burdens of college tuitions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as thinking that the child is more passionate about the sport than they actually are. Regardless of the reason, high expectations can often lead to disappointment and the disappointment of a parent is a difficult feeling for any child to process. Young athletes are intuitive to how their performance affects those around them (parents, coaches, teammates) and the fear of letting others you care about down by not being good enough can be crippling to performance and drain any love that the athlete has for a sport very quickly.

To avoid this, it’s crucial to embrace your child’s journey, which includes both wins and losses. Encourage them to enjoy the sport rather than focusing solely on outcomes. Learning how to manage their own confidence levels as they fluctuate (which they will, no matter the talent level), as well as learning how to fail productively and positively, is the greatest win for the child in the long term. The job of a parent is to facilitate that through endless support and positive guidance. As sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg wisely advises, “The focus should be on effort, attitude, and the joy of competing, rather than solely on winning.”

2. Overinvestment in a Single Sport

Specialization in one sport from a young age may seem like a shortcut to success, but it can lead to burnout and injuries. Many elite athletes have diverse sporting backgrounds, and other off-court interests that they pursue while they are figuring out their own desires and passions. The pressure to excel in a single sport can be overwhelming and counterproductive, and is more and more of a trend in today’s society. As the sports world has developed commercially over the past several decades, so too have the unlimited options that parents have in terms of sports participation for their children. With that, certain expectations may begin to foster as a hope for return on investment of money and time, which as outlined above can have a negative effect in the long-term.

Instead, allow your child to explore different sports and activities. It not only reduces the risk of burnout but also promotes overall athleticism and well-roundedness. Playing several sports seasonally until the child feels ready on their own to commit to a specific one with more dedication decreases the risk that they will feel as if their parents were the ones who pushed them to strive for excellence in it.

3. “Helicopter Spectating”

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents — those who generally hover over their children’s every move, often causing unnecessary stress. This can carry over to the stands where parents watch games as spectators under the assumption that just being there is supportive in itself. While intentions are undoubtedly good, it’s essential to give your young athlete some breathing room and to allow them to play the game without having to look over at you for approval throughout. It can become difficult for young athletes to perform if they are focused in on the judgement of others from the crowd rather than the game itself.

The key is to strike a balance between support and independence. Allow them to make decisions and learn from their mistakes, and if they ask for advice during breaks in play feel free to offer it then. Before and after the game are optimal times to provide any kind of constructive advice and support that you wish, but yelling out instructions during the course of play can be counter-productive. As former NBA player Kobe Bryant once said, “When kids feel like they have some ownership in terms of the journey, they’re going to be more inclined to work harder.”

4. Failure to Recognize Individual Goals

Not all athletes have the same aspirations. While some may dream of Olympic gold, others may simply enjoy the camaraderie of team sports. Recognize and respect your child’s unique goals and passions. Encourage open communication to understand what they want from their athletic journey. Parents are pillars of guidance and serve as a compass for their children to try and point them in the right direction but the fact about achievement is that if it doesn’t come from the person who is pursuing it themselves, they are much less likely to get there. No parent’s desire can translate to a child’s success without some kind of positive internal motivation to succeed as the driving force behind it.

Being open to listening as well as placing a large importance on working hard and giving their all to whatever they are participating in is what will open the door for passion to exist. And if the passion does not develop, perhaps they are better off trying something else for a while which will excite them more. As sports parent expert Lisa Cohn points out, “It’s important for parents to understand that kids have different motivations and reasons for playing sports. Your child’s definition of success may be different from yours.”

5. Neglecting the Importance of Education

While sports can be a fantastic teacher of life skills, I think that it’s still vital to strike a balance between academics and athletics. I think most parents would agree. Focusing solely on sports at the expense of education can limit future opportunities, and the reality is that an overwhelmingly large percentage of young athletes do not continue on their sports journey beyond high school. Even fewer are able to pursue playing professionally as a career. The statistics vary across different sports but specifically in basketball, the numbers are extremely low. Some facts and figures provided by the NCAA can be found below:

Support your child’s academic pursuits, emphasizing the value of a well-rounded education. Many successful athletes excel both in their sport and in their studies, proving that these two worlds can coexist harmoniously.


Raising an athlete is a journey filled with highs and lows, triumphs, and tribulations. The mistakes we’ve discussed are easy to make unknowingly but also avoidable with a little mindfulness. Remember that your role is not just to shape an athlete but to nurture a well-rounded, resilient individual. Our job as coaches is to support you in that role and to carry that mindfulness out every time we are with your children on the court for a session, regardless of their level of ambition. Don’t forget — despite everything discussed above, sports still carry incredible value to children’s development and offer opportunities to develop an extremely valuable set of life skills and tools that they can carry with them forever. That’s why our mission is what it is.

As you navigate this exciting journey, keep in mind the words of former professional tennis player Arthur Ashe: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” Embrace the journey, celebrate the small victories, and be there to support and guide your young athlete through the ups and downs of sports and life.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Art Of Losing”

“The Art Of Losing”

Read time: 5 minutes

Sports can be brutal. The phrase “You’re only as good as your last game” may seem harsh on the surface but it is the reality that all athletes face. No matter how many wins you string together, defeat is right around the corner. No matter how many times you fall short and lose, you are due for a victory to bounce back. The key to managing the highs and lows that come with playing a sport often lies in the mental aspects of the game. Those who are able to control their emotions and maintain a balanced attitude toward the results they achieve are usually the ones who are able to learn the most from their experiences.

One of the most common issues that children in sports face are dealing with their own “failures”. Mistakes, individual weaknesses, losses, and lack of ability, lead to symptoms like diminishing confidence, frustration over results, and feelings of inadequacy. Although these are common, as parents and coaches our job is to recognize when our children are struggling to deal with these waves of emotion in a calm manner and to do our best to equip them with the tools necessary to overcome these feelings in the long-term. It is a nuanced and difficult process, but as the ones responsible for guiding the child, half of the battle is knowing where to put your focus and understanding what they are feeling in different moments.

Tell me if any of the following sounds familiar:

Your child gets in the car, a sullen expression on their face. Their team just got beat by 47 points, suffering their 7th consecutive defeat, and to make matters worse, your child played very poorly throughout the game. You ask “What do you think went wrong today?”, to which the response is “We just suck. We’re not good enough!”. As emotions rise, and tears start to swell, you are now faced with a difficult decision. Do you let it go and give them time to cool off, or use this opportunity to try to teach them something? Because that’s the catch. That’s the thing that many children, parents, and coaches fail to realize….

Losing is an art. Let me repeat that again. LOSING IS AN ART. Many of us were taught growing up that winning was the most important thing, and that losing was something to be avoided at all costs. But it is often through losing that we learn valuable lessons and make major strides toward improvement, and without it, we may never face the type of adversity that can bring out the best in us. If we find a way to re-think our perception of mistakes, bad plays, bad games, losses, and even BAD SEASONS, that’s when we can truly succeed.

The goal for parents, children, and coaches alike should be to make that philosophy the driving force behind everything they do in sports because that’s when real progress occurs. And although it leads to tangible results in skill and ability development, as well as better team results, the most important progress lies in the mental traits that the athletes build up in the process. Our lives as humans are made up of a collection of “micro-failures” every single day, regardless of our age. Since sports can often be a microcosm of everyday life, if it is used correctly, it can teach our children how to deal with any type of adversity they face outside of sports as well.

So that brings us to the question of how we actually put this philosophy into practice. How can we provide our children with the required tools to learn how to best deal with a perceived failure and to accept that it is merely a learning opportunity? Despite the nuance required, the answer is actually quite simple…


Whether through positive affirmations, constructive feedback, or enthusiastic encouragement, we give our athletes the reassurance that we are not disappointed by what they couldn’t do, but rather excited by what they might be able to do next. Over time, the positive approach to mistakes and failures becomes engrained in the athlete and so does the ability to persevere through any amount of them. Most importantly, this same approach then starts to trickle over into the child’s mindset outside of sports as well and once this happens, we have done our job.

Throughout our careers, my father and I both experienced countless failures and every time we succeeded, it was usually shortly followed by a failure. Similarly, there were many examples of consecutive and prolonged failures being followed by significant achievements. The common denominator was always maintaining positivity and belief in the process one has to go through to learn something new or improve something they are not yet great at. The culmination of these experiences at the amateur, collegiate, and professional levels is what drove us to develop the Mitrovic Method in the hopes of passing those tools and experiences down to the next generations of Canadian athletes.

Our Method is proven to improve a wide range of individual skills, knowledge of the game, and ability to apply those skills to game situations. But the real beauty of the Mitrovic Method is not just the quality of the basketball components it provides but also its emphasis on teaching the art of failure. Creating great basketball players is wonderful. However, creating emotionally mature athletes who are more confident and resilient is the true beauty of sports.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Playing Time Problem”

“The Playing Time Problem”

Read time: 6 minutes

Everyone wants to play. Most of the time players would choose to play the whole game without subbing out if they were allowed. And yet, on most teams, there are 2-4 players who don’t play as much as the others, if at all. So how are young athletes supposed to deal with not getting the playing time they want? How can they go about trying to increase their playing time throughout the season? And what can parents do to help their children overcome these inevitable challenges that come with playing sports?

Up until age 12, players in Ontario are protected to a degree from having to think about this topic because there are rules in place to provide a somewhat balanced division of playing time within a team. However, even with these rules in place, there are always still some players and parents who are upset about the amount of time the player actually spends on the court. It is a very natural reaction! But after 12, when those rules are stripped away, is where the waters can become more complicated to navigate.

So what is the best philosophy an athlete can adopt toward how many minutes their coach gives them? Understanding that playing time is merit-based and has to be earned not only minimizes the emotional lows that accompany not getting the desired amount but also teaches children how to not give up when placed in challenging circumstances. Dealing with these issues is complex and there is no one right answer but it is also very possible to let personal bias cloud our otherwise sound judgement when it comes to our own kids. I can already feel my own bias toward my kids growing and they are only 2! Let alone if a coach were to not treat them fairly…


The process of overcoming the challenge and earning more playing time through effort can lead to real personal growth. Using my own experience as an example – when I was a freshman at the University of Portland, I played only 43 minutes the whole season. Less than 2 minutes per game! I felt embarrassed, inadequate and like I was being treated unfairly. 8 months later I had my first 20-point college game, and 12 months after that I was named one of the 10 best players in the conference. To this day, overcoming that initial struggle to get minutes is a huge source of pride for me.

So that brings us to our second question – how do I earn more playing time??

It is easy to say that the athlete should persevere but what actionable steps can they take to make it happen?

Remembering the earlier point about playing time being awarded based on merit, we have three ways we can put forward the best version of ourselves to help our team win.

#1 – Play to your strengths and make a positive impact. Everyone has a variety of strong and weak points in their game that are unique to them, but too often players get too caught up in what they are not good at rather than the areas they excel in. Scoring is the most applauded skill in basketball, and rightfully so, but there is incredible value in being a great rebounder. A great defender. A great passer. A great screener!! Whatever your 1-2 best attributes are on the court, focus on doing those well consistently.

#2 – Work on the weaker points of your game to improve them. Even just 5 minutes per day adds up over time and results in significant improvement. The more ambitious you are about the sport, the more time you need to invest. From the player’s perspective, this part is quite simple. You get out what you put in with your effort. Not practicing your skills and expecting those skills to improve is like not studying for the test and expecting to get an A. There are some people who can pull it off but most of us have to study… The speed at which one improves then comes down to the frequency and quality of work being put in, but the most important part is to have some consistency in working toward that improvement.

#3 – Don’t forget the intangibles. Besides the skills mentioned in #1, there are plenty of other ways that athletes can positively impact their team and teammates. Any positive impact, regardless of the kind, gives a coach more reason to play one player over the other. Having a positive attitude, being supportive of your teammates, displaying leadership, being unselfish, making effort and hustle plays, etc. These are just a few examples to highlight non-basketball skills which are very valuable to any team. If you can get used to trying to find ways to bring value to the group you work with at an early age, it can serve you well later in life.

Ultimately, it is up to the player to decide how much desire they have for overcoming the challenge. But as parents and coaches, the best thing we can do to support them is to highlight the mental approach to the situation which will allow them to be successful. Positive reinforcement is powerful (this topic will be covered in a separate post), and a young child playing a complicated game can never have too much of it. Constructive feedback about things you notice as a spectator can be very helpful. Helping them find value in doing all of the little things and not just worrying about how they can make more 3-pointers. If we can get their thinking to shift from “This is hard, I don’t want to do it anymore” to “How do I solve this problem?” then we have provided them with a blueprint to solve more than just this one problem. We have helped them find the gift of resiliency.

And resiliency is undeniably much more valuable than playing time.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Stairs vs. The Elevator”

“The Stairs vs. The Elevator”

Read time: 6 minutes

Arsene Wenger, one of the great soccer coaches of his generation, once said about athlete confidence “You take the stairs up and the elevator down”. His coaching excellence aside, he is certainly not the only coach who has used this analogy to describe the ups and downs that all athletes (and people in general) experience when it comes to self-confidence. It is human nature to want to excel and be recognized for your abilities in whatever you do, but in many ways, this is especially exaggerated in sports. Why is confidence so fickle and what can we as parents/coaches do to help our athletes understand these ups and downs better? How do we help children overcome a period of declining self-confidence and learn to process the feelings that come with it externally?

When I was playing college basketball at the University of Portland, I felt the extremes at both ends of the confidence spectrum. My first two years were spent developing the necessary skills to be able to perform at this new high level that I was surrounded by. Day by day I was taking the stairs. Building my skills. Building my strength. Building my confidence. During my third year of school, I had an excellent season and was named one of the top 10 players in our league as well as finishing 5th in the entire country in 3-point percentage. My confidence was sky-high and I had my sights set firmly on the NBA. Nothing was going to stop me!

But extreme highs are often followed by some kind of dip. Some dips are small, some are big, but the question is whether you are prepared to deal with them when they happen.

My 4th and final year started off great. I was named an all-star at our season-opening tournament and had a huge game against a Kentucky team that ended up winning the national championship that season. But then came the dip. After a bout of food poisoning that I tried to play through, I was benched in favour of our top incoming recruit and my confidence took a hit. Poor performances followed, which led to more scrutiny from our coaches and before you know it, I was trapped in a vicious cycle of declining confidence and poor performances. I am a pretty confident person by nature, but after 3 whole years dedicated to taking the stairs every day to build the ultimate belief in myself and my abilities, I took the elevator straight to the bottom of the confidence spectrum. No one on my team really understood what was going on and more importantly, no one really did anything to try and help me get out of the hole I was stuck in. I finished out the season, and my career, as a shell of the player I had worked so hard to become and with doubts about my future career as a professional player that lay ahead the following year.


The reasons for why the dip actually happened would require a much longer blog post to discuss. But more than a decade later, one thing is very clear – no one around me knew how to help, those who could have helped were too far away and I didn’t possess enough tools mentally to help myself. If I could go back in time, these are 3 things that could have lessened the magnitude of the spiral or perhaps even prevented it from happening:


While there were a lot of external forces that contributed to the entire episode I described above, a portion of it was definitely my fault. After my excellent Junior year, I felt indestructible. I finally showed everyone how good I was and earned the respect of anyone who had doubted me in the past. I will never forget the feeling when I heard the news that I had been named to the All-Conference team. I cried tears of joy quietly in my room and felt so proud of all of the hard work it took to get to that point. But rather than taking the good with the bad and keeping my emotions balanced, I stayed in the high of my achievement for months. I went to training camp with the Men’s Senior National Team that summer and continued to build on this bubble of good feelings that had lasted over a year at that point. Never did it once cross my mind that I would ever play bad again.

In my opinion, one of the most important things that children need to learn through youth sports is how to allow their emotions on the court to come and go. Young athletes have a tendency to deeply experience all of the emotions associated with doing well or doing poorly. As parents and coaches, the best thing we can do for them is to allow them to experience the full range of emotions, teach them that they are all a part of the game and that they will continue to experience this full range throughout their life, whether in sports or otherwise.

Never too high, never too low.


It sucks to miss a shot. It sucks to lose a game. It sucks to have a bad season. It sucks to not even make the team!

But everything is temporary, and the true test is whether we continue to try. For children, that doesn’t mean they have to continue to put effort toward a sport that they are struggling with or to play for a team where they are having a hard time finding their footing. The important part is to not allow a temporary defeat to be a permanent one. When our kids at Momentum are having a tough day or have been struggling with something for a few months, the main thing we try to communicate to them is that it can only get better from here. Positive reinforcement goes a long way toward helping them understand that the struggle they are currently experiencing is temporary.

Despite all of the problems I had at the end of my college career, I still went on to play professionally for many years and today I feel more confident in myself than ever before. The beautiful part about the ups and downs of my basketball career is that they taught me how to navigate difficult times and have more emotional stability. I started taking the stairs again and made my way up, day by day. But this can only be developed through communication with the people who provide support and through continued persistence in challenging yourself with things that cause you some difficulty.


Part of my struggles in 2011-2012 was on me for sure. But the other people involved deserve some of the blame for it getting to the eventual low point it reached.

From my first official practice in Portland until the day I graduated, my coaches and I never had a great relationship. They were hard on me and often went too far with their criticisms in hopes of getting more out of me on the court. Over time I created defence mechanisms to protect myself and it wasn’t very often that I felt like they were in my corner. The first breaking point before the bad year that ensued was when our head coach humiliated me in front of 100+ teenage campers and parents for making a single mistake on defence.

How we communicate matters, both internally and externally. If my coaches had put in some time to build healthy communication between us, it would have been all that we needed to prosper together. Over the past 3 years of coaching, we have certainly gotten some glimpses into communication that were not super positive between parent and child as well. Being a coach is difficult and being a parent is exponentially harder, but these authority figures often shape how we feel about ourselves as we pass through our developing years. I’m all for some tough love but everything requires balance, and balance requires positive communication.


Sports often serve as a microcosm of the real world, and offer opportunities for children to build their mental and emotional strength. Our experiences as children, in large part, shape who we later become as adults. All athletes who come through our program, and children in general, are currently taking the stairs in their lives and building up their self-confidence as they try to figure out who they are and how the world works. Some are higher up on the staircase, some are lower down. But the elevator is always around the corner, so it is the support system that can help those elevator rides get shorter and shorter over time.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic