What Parents Should Do to Mentally Prepare for a Game


I recently joined Dr. Brad Miller, Psy.D, the co-founder of SoccerResilience.com, to talk about the athlete performance anxiety for youth soccer players. The conversation took an interesting turn as we unpacked the role that anxiety can have on parents -- specifically when we allow a fixed mindset to kick in. 

There is a 100% chance your child will make a mistake during his or her next soccer game. What will your internal reaction be to that mistake? You have to have a plan.

Negative thoughts before and during a game do not just happen in our children. They happen on the sidelines. Brad is a performance psychologist and a former Division 1 player at Wake Forest. Both of his children play soccer in the exact position he did. In this four-minute Breakaway video from our recent hour-long interview, Brad unpacks what he does as a parent before his child's game.

The exercise is an easy one and something you can do the morning of a big game or even an hour before the game while you are watching warmups.

You, the parent, have a very important place in helping our children feel successful. 


Dr. Brad Miller, Psy.D.

Dr. Brad Miller, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist, has spent over 20 years helping youth and adult athletes grow their ability to control their performance anxiety and stress, to persevere and improve their overall sports performance. Brad played at Wake Forest University (1989 ACC Champion), and as a lifelong soccer player, coach and parent, he knows a thing or two about the game.


Before you go to the game, I encourage you to take some time, it's either in the morning before the game, or when you get there, there's an hour before as your kids warm up, and say, "Okay, what is my goal today? What do I value most in my kids..."

What I did that really helped me is that when I get in a fixed mindset about "Are they going to start today, and if they start today are they going to play more than other people, how are they playing compared to the other kids? Does that mean they're going to stay starting? Does the coach like them? Does a parent not like them? If my kid makes a mistake, will the parents look at me?"

Those are things that would go through my head, and I would feel stressed and alert. So, I'm already tense. Game hasn't even started. But my brain's already totally played this thing out to where it's like, "Oh gosh, what's going to happen?"

So I'd say, "Brad, what's the goal today? The goal is to, one, encourage and support your kid." So I would really, really pride myself and be like, "Encourage and support your kid."

And what I'd do with my mindset, I would say, "You know what? I just want to watch them compete. They may not play well. They may really struggle with their play. But I just want to watch them try and work hard." So I would purposely say, "I'm going to look for how they respond to a mistake. There's a 100% chance your kid will make a mistake every time in training games, a hundred percent. So since this is a hundred percent, it would make sense that we have a plan for that.

So the plan I like is, and it can be different variations, is to say, "Okay, when, not if, but when-" because we often go, "Please don't let them make that mistake today, hope they don't make that mistake today," and it just feeds that fear. And then when it happens, it's like, "Oh no." We totally flip our lid. Instead, we go, "Yeah, they're going to make mistakes. I just want to see how they respond. And that's what I'm really going to focus on and value." So when my son and daughter would make a mistake and maybe give up a goal, and they come back and their eyes are level, they're looking forward, they're ready, and the ball starts again and they go after it, I'm just so proud of them. That's great. They keep working hard. Because I know how tough that is. It's hard when you make a mistake. So, look for them and respond to mistakes. Look for them to see any growth.

I played in the back, my kids played in the back, and I would just watch them all the time they play. And if they all of a sudden learned something new, like they took someone on and beat them one on one, I'm like, "How'd you do that? That was great. I haven't seen you do it with someone that fast, or at that spot. What helped you do that?" And they're like, "Oh, I tried this in practice. I tried this."

So I would focus on noticing their improvement. I would focus on noticing them keep working hard, even if they're struggling and making a lot of mistakes, which can be frustrating for them and can hurt for them, but really focusing on that.

And then after the game, I'd make a point. The first thing I'd try to say is, "You know what, I'm really proud of you. I noticed when this happened, and this is how you responded. Way to hang in there." And that was my message over and over again.

And over time, kids start to go, "Wow, so my dad's not going to get mad at me for making mistakes. He values how I responded to the mistake." And they start to internalize that and go, "Okay, that's what's most important" too. So, when they make a mistake, now their brain's more focused on their response. And they look to the sideline, they see me give them that nod and that encouragement, and they're more likely do that too.

That fixed mindset can come in and hijack us and say, "All these things have to be this way or it doesn't work out." So if my son or daughter gets put in a different position, they can't play, that's going to go horribly wrong, and I'm super stressed. And they pick up on that. If the coach says, "I think someone else is better in that spot to start," it's like, "Okay, we need a new team because this clearly isn't going to work. The coach is never going to change their mind. It's going to be a horrible disaster. My kid's going to have a miserable season. Where's the next team?" And those fixed mindset thoughts do that.

Versus going, "Hey, you know what? There's competition. And the coach may be right. Maybe there's a disagreement. But this is a great opportunity for my kid to build some grit, to learn, okay, things are hard. And if there's somebody who's playing in a position above you, try to learn why. Talk to your coach, ask what you can do, and those types of things."

But I think as a parent, if you start thinking of strategies, versus it being either good or bad, that's so important because a fixed mindset just tells you it's all done.