TrueSport Resources

 Age-Based Guide to Goal Setting

Age-Based Guide to Goal Setting

TrueSport Ask the Expert with Roberta Kraus, Ph.D.

While it makes intuitive sense that effective goals for fourth graders differ from those made by juniors in high school, it’s important for parents and coaches to understand how to help youth athletes make and achieve appropriate goals. Dr. Roberta Kraus is a sports psychologist who works with athletes ranging from grade school to high school, and novices to Olympic athletes. As a TrueSport Expert, she provided her knowledge and guidance so we can all help make youth sports a positive experience for kids.

Where to Start

To help kids pursue the best goals, parents and coaches have to be on the same page in terms of the overall objective. According to Dr. Kraus, auditoriums of parents and coaches always know the “right” answer in terms of the reasons sports are beneficial for kids: character building, work ethic, integrity, teamwork, etc. But knowing the right answer doesn’t stop parents and coaches from applying too much pressure on kids to win, be a star player, and live up to the money spent on private trainers and traveling club teams. If we back up to a more fundamental goal, we can probably all agree we want to keep young athletes engaged in sport.

Staying engaged reinforces the values parents and coaches say they want from sports participation. Sports help engrain exercise and nutrition habits that lead to improved health outcomes throughout adulthood. The question is, how can we help kids set and achieve goals in a way that keeps them engaged in sports?

Goal Setting vs. Goal Getting

The amount of control, self-determination, and accountability athletes will change dramatically as they progress from elementary school through high school. To be an effective goal, a young person needs to have sufficient control over the factors necessary to achieve it. This is why Dr. Kraus encourages kids, parents, and coaches to focus on “Goal Getting” instead of “Goal Setting.” Goal Getting is based on what a young athlete can achieve through effort. Goal Setting is based on win/loss types of outcomes. This isn’t an “everybody is a winner, we’re all special” idea. These are real and measurable goals a child can either achieve or fail to achieve, but the achievement or failure is based on the only thing they can really control: their effort.

Consider the following examples:

Goal Setting:
• Win more than half the games this season.
• Win the Championship
• Make the varsity team

Goal Getting:
• Get off the starting blocks faster (skill acquisition)
• Improve vertical leap by four inches this season (power development)
• Encourage a teammate at every practice and game (leadership)

Focus on Competitive Maturity, Not Age

Despite the title of this article, Dr. Kraus encourages parents and coaches to prioritize an athlete’s competitive/training maturity over chronological age. Consider, for example, two 12-year-old baseball players. One has been playing competitive travel baseball for four years, the other just picked up the game this season. They are the same chronological age, but vastly different in terms of competitive maturity. From a goals perspective, the athlete with more experience can thrive with greater and different challenges compared to the more novice athlete.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

In addition to an athlete’s competitive or training maturity, Dr. Kraus encourages parents and coaches to consider the source of an athlete’s motivation when it comes to establishing appropriate goals. Athletes who are motivated by internal, personal achievement have high intrinsic motivation. Athletes motivated by external validation, like social status or prizes, have high extrinsic motivation. Both are important and valuable, but intrinsic motivation is a crucial component for long-term participation and achievement in sport.

If an athlete exhibits high intrinsic motivation early on by prioritizing personal achievement and what success feels like rather than what it looks like, then coaches and parents can help the athlete progress by encouraging the pursuit of extrinsic goals (winning). In contrast, if an athlete exhibits high extrinsic motivation early on by prioritizing winning and elevated status that results from success, then coaches and parents should help the athlete develop intrinsic motivation before reinforcing the athlete’s extrinsic motivation.

Use Language Deliberately

The words parents and coaches use can have a dramatic impact on a young athlete. According to Dr. Kraus, adults tend to be specific with criticism and nebulous with praise. Think about the car ride home after a game. Do you point out specific instances where your young athlete didn’t get to the ball fast enough or a specific time your young athlete wasn’t in the right position on the field? Do you follow that up with nebulous praise for “being aggressive” or “working hard”?

The very specific criticisms paint mental pictures of what went wrong, but nebulous praise doesn’t enable kids to similarly visualize success. It’s important for coaches and parents to be as specific with praise as with criticism. Instead of “you were aggressive,” recall a specific example: “It was great to see you charge for that loose ball and get there first.”

It’s not that you shouldn’t point out areas that need improvement, but rather, that adults need to consider how quickly and specifically we can identify and describe failures, but how important it is to similarly identify and describe achievements.

Apply Consequences and Rewards

In her experience, Dr. Kraus says young athletes tend to impose harsher consequences on themselves for perceived failures compared to the consequences parents and coaches would normally deem reasonable. On the other end of the spectrum, neither young athletes nor their parents and coaches tend to praise effort or achievement to the same extent. In essence, as young athletes, parents, and coaches, we have a bias toward criticism and negative consequences.

To counter the bias toward criticism, coaches and parents should encourage young athletes to establish concrete consequences and rewards related to the effort (not outcomes).

Ask the question: How do you help your team by giving your best effort? This is the basis for the athlete’s reward. If giving your best effort means you are hustling on and off the field the whole game, that’s what gets rewarded with ice cream or more screen time.

Ask the question: How do you hurt your team when you don’t give your best effort? This is the basis for the athlete’s consequence. If giving up early rather than chasing a loose ball, or chastising a teammate for committing a foul, is the example of you not giving your best effort, that’s what you pay a consequence for. That consequence could be not playing video games for a period of time, or waking up early on the weekend to do yard work.

The athlete, peers, and teammates should be the first judges of whether an athlete earned his or her reward or should suffer his or her consequence. Team captains should provide input next. And coaches and parents should be the last people to weigh in. For Roberta Kraus, reducing the pressures to specialize and succeed are the most important and impactful things parents and coaches can do to support young athletes. When you foster a young athlete’s sources of motivation and help them value effort over the outcome, you establish a pathway to personal achievements that don’t depend on a case full of trophies.

Roberta holds two master’s degrees, one in Higher Education from the University of Northern Colorado and one in Sports Psychology from the University of Arizona. Her Ph.D. from the University of Denver is in Communications, specializing in its application to individual and team effectiveness. She played competitive tennis and basketball at Montclair State College earning her a spot as an alternate to the Women’s Olympic Basketball team.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Teaching Respect for Officials

Teaching Respect for Officials

7 Steps to teaching youth athletes to respect umpires and officials

Most people recognize being an umpire, official, or referee is a difficult (and often thankless) job. Yet ironically, many youth sport parents, coaches, and athletes insist on making this job even harder by shouting ridicule and criticism the referee’s way. While fans empathize with an athlete who makes a mistake, referees (who are sometimes not much older than the athletes) are more likely to be condemned, demeaned, and chastised. Teaching respect for referees doesn’t necessarily mean encouraging blind obedience, but rather, how to self-advocate, take responsibility for your own actions, and overcome adversity.

A Crisis of Disrespect

It’s probably no coincidence that as society’s win-at-all-costs attitude has increased, youth sports organizations are facing a severe referee shortage.

While incidences of violence against referees were extremely rare, they are now occurring more frequently: in 2013, a Utah youth soccer referee died after being punched in the head by a player upset about being called for a foul. A few years later, two high school football players in Texas received national attention when they blindsided a referee during a game. While those tragic incidences represent the extreme, young athletes can see professional athletes and coaches verbally confronting officials on television almost every night.

Even at the youth sports level, it isn’t difficult to find instances of players, coaches, and parents verbally abusing officials. If we’re being honest, most parents have probably – even unintentionally – let a “You’ve got to be kidding me, Blue” come out of their mouths. The ease with which these comments emerge makes it more important to increase awareness about how parents, coaches, and athletes treat officials.

The 7 Lessons for Umpire Respect

Like with sportsmanship and teamwork, umpire respect is an important value that needs to be specifically taught to athletes, parents, and coaches. However, even though there are officials at every game, there is virtually never a direct conversation about the expectations for respecting officials.

Teaching respect for umpires doesn’t have to be hard, hokey, or time-consuming, as long as you can remember the seven lessons for umpire respect:


No matter how experienced or knowledgeable an athlete or parent is, it’s important to remember officials have specific training in the rules of the game, how to observe the game, and how to make difficult calls. They are also often in a better position to see the play, especially compared to parents on the sidelines or in the stands. If you’re still convinced you can do a better job, leagues are always hiring.


There are many aspects of sports that are unpredictable and out of a player’s control. However, there are some things an athlete can control. Players, spectators, and coaches can’t control officiating, but if players are overly focused on how the officials are calling the game, they are likely less focused on playing the game to the best of their abilities. Similarly, coaches should advocate for their team, but focus more on instructing and guiding players than haranguing umpires. For parents in the stands, you could spend your time focused on the umpire, or spend that time focused on watching and encouraging your young athletes to do their best with the one thing they can control: their own performance.


One of the ways coaches can model respect for officials is to make an effort to personally greet officials before the game, just as you would the coach of the opposing team. And while it may not be practical for every player to greet the officials, encourage captains at the pre-game meeting or coin flip to introduce themselves to the officials. These efforts help turn nameless, faceless referees into people, particularly people to be respected, in the eyes of young players.


Officials do their best to call games objectively, but they are still human. On a tough call that could go either way, an umpire may be more likely to rule in favor of a team whose players (and coaches) have been respectful and focused on fair play throughout the game. It’s a natural bias to reward favorable behavior and the people who have treated them respectfully.


For parents and coaches, it’s important to think about what yelling at officials teaches young athletes. Youth sport advocacy organization, Play by the Rules, has outlined several different ways yelling at umpires hurts kids by communicating to them that:
Mistakes are not acceptable.
There’s no need to take accountability for your own performance when you can blame others.
It’s acceptable to disrespect an authority figure whenever you disagree with their decision.
Even though it’s rude, disruptive, and distracting to others, yelling is acceptable behavior.


Having athletes and parents try officiating during scrimmages at practices is a great way of illustrating the difficulties umpires face. It’s the old “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” lesson, but it’s effective for helping parents and athletes be more empathetic toward officials.


No missed call during a youth sports game is going to make or break an athlete’s career. Youth sports are an environment for learning about and falling in love with sports, not heaping pressure on athletes, coaches, and officials. And in the off-chance a player, coach, or parent makes a mistake and is disrespectful to an official during the game, make an effort to resolve the conflict after the game with a face-to-face conversation with the umpire. This helps illustrate to young athletes that after a conflict with another person it is important to take responsibility for your actions and make amends with the other person.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 The New Coach

The New Coach

How to earn the respect of your players

You may have been a coach for many years, but to this team, you’re the “new coach.”

They could have just started playing the game, or perhaps they’re now old enough to start your program. Either way, they are sizing you up the same way you’re sizing them up.

Getting players on your team to respect you as their new coach takes work, but these tips will make it easier.

Aim to motivate, not intimidate

There are coaches out there who believe in setting an authoritative tone right from the beginning, even going so far as to make early practices brutally difficult, so players “know who’s boss.”  These are fear-based tactics, or motivation through intimidation. Players will work and play harder to avoid pain (running laps, doing push-ups, etc.) or humiliation (getting yelled at, particularly in front of peers).

Among the problems with fear-based motivation is that players are unlikely to give you more than the minimum effort required to avoid negative consequences. In contrast, athletes motivated through positive reinforcement will continually strive to elevate their performance. They will give you everything they have and dig deeper than they knew they could.

Coach the person, not just the athlete

Get to know more about your athletes off the field or court. It is important for young athletes to know a coach cares about them as a person, not just as a player. Respect develops within relationships, so connecting with your players helps them see you as a person they can trust, rely on, and come to if they need help.

Coaches who are disconnected from their players can be great at teaching skills, devising tactics, and leading winning teams. But when a coach is good at all those things and connects with their athletes on a personal level, then you become more than just a coach, you become a mentor to them outside of sport as well.

Be fair and true to your word

You can’t make everyone happy all the time, nor should you try, but you should be fair. When you set expectations for your team, it’s important for those expectations to apply to all players. The goal isn’t to treat every player the same or give them all equal playing time, but your actions should make it clear that all players have the opportunity to succeed, and that they will all be held similarly accountable for misbehaving, missing practices, etc.

Athletes respect coaches who do what they say they will do, even if that means a negative outcome for them personally. If you tell a player they will start in the next game if they complete specific tasks in practice, and they do it, then that player should be in the starting lineup on game day. Likewise, if you tell your players they won’t start or won’t play in the next game if they miss practice, then you have to stick to that ultimatum, even if it’s your star player who has to sit out.

Be professional

You don’t need to be a professional coach to exhibit professionalism. Players develop respect for coaches who are organized, on time, polite, and remember people’s names. Your level of professionalism reflects the level of respect you have for the team, their efforts, and yourself. Your players are likely to reciprocate that level of respect.

Win the parents

Parents have a huge influence over a child’s views and feelings, even during the teenage years. Get to know your players’ parents so they’ll be more likely to support you as a coach.

Athletes cannot be expected to respect a person simply because they bear the title of “coach.” We should not expect athletes to automatically respect a coach based on his or her reputation.

Respect is earned day in and day out by the way coaches interact with athletes, peers, and parents.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.