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Kids and Sports

Tips to help your kids (and yourself) enjoy sports - a short interview with Dr. Judy Vanraalte.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)

Movie clip

Female: There, there. It’s all right. It’ll be okay.

Male: No, no, it won’t.

Female: Sure it will. You’ll see.

Male: No. I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.

Female: That’s a funny thing to promise.

Male: What?

Female: Well, you can’t not let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

Dr. Kenner: And that’s from Finding Nemo. That is the case. Parents need to be able to let go and let their kids explore and if they’re trying to protect the kids – I don’t want you to play baseball, I don’t want you to play basketball, I don’t want you to ski, maybe you’ll get hurt – and you end up with kids who are just afraid of living, of breathing, of enjoying life. Then you have the opposite situation too, where kids feel pushed into things. It’s not that you allow them to live life, but they feel like their parents are saying, “You are going to play basketball. You are getting out of this house. You are going to be a star tennis player. You are going to X-Y-Z,” and the parents are very pushy. How do you deal with those situations? Well, with me today, it is my pleasure to have Dr. Judy Van Raalte. She is a psychology professor at Springfield College in Massachusetts and Judy has worked with youth sports athletes and elite and professional athletes in the United States and around the world. She’s written four books and presented at conferences in 11 countries. She’s been around a lot. She is a certified consultant and is listed on the United States Olympic Committee Sports Psychology registry and I had the pleasure of having a workshop with her. Welcome to the show Judy.

Dr. Van Raalte: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Kenner: Sometimes parents don’t have a hands-off approach, but instead they push their kids. They just feel their kids have to be involved and the kids feel the pressure from the parents. Sometimes they feel it from their peers. How would you, as a sports psychologist if you were called on the scene, help in that type of a situation?

Dr. Van Raalte: The situations where kids really want to play, that’s easy. Although for some parents they find it hard when it’s expensive and the kids are driving the show. But I think the more challenging situation is that parents who have gotten kids involved in sport, they’ve made arrangements for time, they’ve maybe paid a lot of money, and all the sudden the kid says, “I don’t want to go,” or they start coughing or they don’t want to get out of the car and do the activity. Then the parents are in the position of dragging an unhappy kid to a practice and arguments happen. It can get ugly.

Dr. Kenner: “I’m not going Mom. I hate this. You’re making me do it and I’m not getting out of the car,” and if you’re there, as a sports psychologist, what advice can you give?

Dr. Van Raalte: I think parents need to do a little thinking about the situation. Sometimes, kids are just having a tough week. Maybe there is a lot of work at school. Maybe something happened between the coach and the players or among kids on the team, and there’s just a need for a little bit of time out or off or a conversation. But in other cases, maybe the kid really doesn’t want to be involved in that activity. And the parent may need to take a look at his or herself to see, are they encouraging the kid because sport is a healthy activity for a lifetime, which it is? Or are they encouraging the kid because it’s their dream that the kid will be a sports star, that maybe they never were or maybe because they were a sports star and they wish all the good things of sports for their kid, but it’s not a great fit for their kid? A little thinking on the parents’ part to really determine who is benefiting. Is it just a time where a kid needs a little extra boost to go because really once they get there they enjoy it, or is it the parents’ own thing? Figuring that out can be very helpful.

Dr. Kenner: That idea of the parents needing to take the time to think about what motivates me, and why is this such a big issue? Also for the kids, figuring out, doing the detective work, what is really going on in their mind that is causing the resistance? I want to mention that you have written a book for kids. You, along with Al Petitpas and Judy Van Raalte, it’s called Rudy’s Secret Cap and I read it and I immediately thought of several moms that I work with who would love this book for their kids because it helps their kids participate in sports, being very kind to themselves. Kind to the parent too, but to the kids. I want to read just one thing from the book and then you can take it from there and talk a little bit about the book. “When I was 8 years old, I got a baseball glove for my birthday. I was so happy that I couldn’t wait to try it out.” You see the picture of a little kid holding the baseball glove, sitting on dad’s lap. The next page, “I ran to the park and Carlos picked me to play on his team. When it came my time to bat, I struck out. Next time up, I struck out again. The older kids started laughing at me. I got so mad I threw my glove and took off for home.” And you help the kid in the book, so tell me about Rudy’s secret cap.

Dr. Van Raalte: I didn’t help the kid, but Rudy ran into a friend who was wearing a cap that had the letters CAP on it. Those letters, as it’s explained in the book at about a third-grade level, had some suggestions for things Rudy could do, that a good athlete stays cool. That’s what the C stands for, and is cool. Not cool like they have the latest, greatest shoes, but cool like calm under pressure. That a great athlete will, A is ask for help, so asking for help is a smart thing to do.

Dr. Kenner: And a lot of adults have trouble asking for help and being cool!

Dr. Van Raalte: That’s for sure. P is for being positive. Also for playing your best. Going out there and trying hard and giving it another try. Being positive, even if you strike out, that can be another important step. At the end of the story, we find out that Rudy decided to go back and give it another try, although he also practiced hard before he went back out to join Carlos and the guys on the baseball field.

Dr. Kenner: So to deal with all the teasing, he’s able to guide himself and think more positively and to deal with his thoughts that he’s a failure, he’ll never be able to do it. He can coach himself, basically, with the three letters CAP. When I went to the conference that you spoke at, the workshop you gave, you talked about having older – is it high school students or college students read this to third graders or to younger kids? And that guess who benefited most? That was the question you asked us, and the people who benefited most were not the young kids but the –

Dr. Van Raalte: High school students! One of the things we’ve been involved in with sports psychology is providing opportunities where the skills that athletes learn in sport can transfer to the real world, I guess I would say, or to the rest of their lives. Sometimes athletes, although they might be ahead of their peers when they’re kids and opportunities to travel and compete and do exciting things, as they get older, and other students explore careers and have lots of time to do other interesting things, a lot of athletes are at practices and games and don’t have those experiences and leadership roles. So, we found that having these student athletes come into schools –

Dr. Kenner: And read it to the kids?

Dr. Van Raalte: Connect with other kids. Give them a chance to see themselves as leaders, professionals.

Dr. Kenner: It helped them to gain the skills for themselves that are in this wonderful little book. Sometimes reading a child’s book helps us as adults, so it’s a timeless book. I highly recommend it. How can people get your book and get in touch with you? Rudy’s Secret Cap, by Judy Van Raalte.

Dr. Van Raalte: The best way to do it is to send an email to and we can get you information about how to order one book or a group of books.

Dr. Kenner: I recommend them for all parents who have kids on teams and I think the parents themselves will learn when they read the book to the kids. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Van Raalte: Thank you.

Dr. Kenner: I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner, on The Rational Basis of Happiness. It’s been great being with you and look forward to being with you again next week.