Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

Help Early High Performers Adjust Expectations

When coaching young athletes who show natural talent or have committed to one sport, it can be challenging to manage their expectations for their future in the sport. Whether the advantage comes from physical build, parental involvement, or socio-economic benefits, it is almost certain that this advantage will diminish as other kids catch up or join more competitive teams.

The risk is that early high performers who start to lose may experience burnout and struggle to maintain their high level of perfectionism. This can lead them to leave the sport entirely. TrueSport Expert Amanda Stanec, PhD, the founder and owner of MOVE + LIVE + LEARN, offers some guidance on how to handle early high performers and their expectations around success and perceived failures. Stanec emphasizes the importance of helping all athletes adopt a growth mindset, where they believe that their talent can change and improve over time.

Eliminate Phrases like ‘Talent’ or ‘High Performer’ from Your Vocabulary

Before addressing how to support high performers, it’s crucial to shift the way we talk about them. Avoid labeling kids as “talented” or “not talented.” These labels can set them up for failure. Kids labeled as “talented” may struggle when they encounter someone better than them, while kids labeled as “untalented” may feel like they can never catch up. These labels contribute to a fixed mindset that limits their potential.

Focus on Effort and Skill Development in Practice

Instead of solely praising natural talent, focus on cheering on kids who put in the effort, regardless of their current skill level. Developing a work ethic and understanding that practicing leads to improvement is crucial, especially for early high performers who may rely on their talent alone. Rather than solely focusing on winning, emphasize that giving their best effort is what truly matters. This helps cultivate a growth mindset, where they understand that improvement is a journey.

“If there is an early developer who wins a race, say to them, ‘You did your best and tried your hardest, and that’s what I’m proud of,'” Stanec suggests. “You can also let them know that there will be times when they won’t win the race. But as long as your athlete keeps putting in their best effort, that’s what matters.”

Take Competition Out for Younger Athletes

For younger athletes in elementary or middle school, it’s essential to prioritize skill development and fun over competition. This is especially important for early high performers, as the emphasis on competition can hinder their enjoyment of the sport when they grow older. By avoiding premature ranking and focusing on personal growth, we allow young athletes time to develop physically and emotionally. This approach helps prevent them from feeling entitled or overly identified as athletes in specific sports.

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Treat All Athletes the Same

Although it’s tempting to dedicate more time and energy to high performers, it’s important to create an equitable environment for all athletes. Spending excessive attention on high performers may inadvertently contribute to their continued success, but is this sustainable? By providing every athlete with a warm and supportive environment that focuses on their development, we give them the opportunity to progress at their own pace.

“Every athlete deserves a warm and supportive environment that is focused on their development, and every kid deserves the opportunity to develop at their own pace,” says Stanec.

Remember the Stress High Performers May Be Under

Even when we try to treat all athletes equally, high performers may still face unrealistic expectations from previous coaches, parents, or even themselves. The pressure these athletes experience can be overwhelming, leading to unrealistic expectations and ultimately setting them up for failure and burnout. It’s crucial to recognize and address the potential stress that high performers carry.

“The pressure that is put on these early high performers, and the pressure that they put on themselves, can be incredibly difficult. These young athletes have so much attention on them based on their early performances, and that’s ultimately what leads them to have unrealistic expectations. We’re setting them up for failure and burnout,” Stanec explains.

Encourage Early Losses

Paradoxically, one of the most effective ways to help early high performers adjust their expectations is by allowing them to experience early losses. Normalizing failures helps young athletes avoid perfectionist tendencies and understand that losing is a part of any sport at any level. By teaching them how to handle adversity and emphasizing humility, we equip high performers with the skills they need to navigate larger, more competitive environments.

“If we don’t teach them how to handle adversity, if we don’t teach them about humility, we’re doing them a disservice. Young high performers don’t realize that they’re big fish in a small pond and that there are bigger ponds out there. It creates a sense of false confidence if we try to keep them on this winning streak.”

Teach Athletes to Love the Journey

Early high performers often lose sight of the journey because they have been conditioned to focus on results rather than the process. However, for athletes to thrive and improve in the long run, they need to find joy in the journey and embrace the process of continuous improvement. Creating a joyful practice environment helps athletes avoid burnout and fosters a love for the sport beyond mere performance and winning.

“As an athlete, you want to be in an environment where playing your sport is joyful. As a coach, if you can create that joyful practice environment, you will help those athletes avoid burnout. Teach athletes to love the process of improving, and they’ll stop seeing themselves as talented and start seeing themselves as hard workers,” advises Stanec.


Q: How can we help early high performers adjust their expectations?

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A: To help early high performers adjust their expectations, it is important to focus on cultivating a growth mindset, encouraging effort and skill development, removing premature competition for younger athletes, treating all athletes equally, acknowledging the stress high performers may experience, normalizing early losses, and teaching athletes to appreciate the journey rather than solely focusing on results.

Q: What is a growth mindset?

A: A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities and talents can be developed and improved over time through effort and practice. By adopting a growth mindset, athletes are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and continue to grow and improve.


In summary, when coaching early high performers, it is crucial to help them adjust their expectations and develop a growth mindset. By focusing on effort and skill development, removing premature competition, treating all athletes equitably, acknowledging the pressures high performers face, normalizing losses, and teaching athletes to love the journey, we can support their long-term success and prevent burnout. Remember, every athlete deserves a supportive environment that fosters their development and allows them to progress at their own pace.

For more information and resources on fostering positive youth sports experiences, visit the official website of Alpinetgheep at Alpinetgheep.com.