What to do When Your Child Doesn’t Hustle?

Sooner or later, every parent will have to face the perceived shame and humiliation caused by a child who didn’t “hustle” during a game. Most of the other parents will be polite and say things like “Is you child feeling okay?” or “Hope everything is okay at home.” Some parents will suggest private lessons or maybe even other teams to play on, but most will be quiet and avoid direct eye contact. When this happens, parents can either put on a brave face and laugh off the comments, or just pretend to be on their cell phone while quickly walking their five year old to the car. When confronted with too much shame and humiliation, parents quit youth sports and never return.

WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! – Parents aren’t quitting youth sports in record numbers, kids are. The last count was more than 70% by age 13. Shame and humiliation may have their place in a corporate financial scandal but they have no place in youth sports. Kids are not always going to play a good game and parents may want to talk with them about their “hustle”. But, before getting into that discussion, parents need to remember that a lack of hustle may actually be things that they cause or influence. For example:

  • Were there external distractions such as problems at school or with friends or siblings?
  • Were there physical influences such as an illness, lack of proper nutrition or insufficient rest?
  • Is there a diminished lack of interest in the sport caused by burnout or a lack of time for other activities?
  • Is physical conditioning in areas such as stamina or strength adequate for playing an entire game?
  • Does a lack of fundamental skills hinder more advanced play?
  • Is there a good understanding of strategy and positioning so that a young player knows how to react in specific situations?
  • Is the child playing at the right level of competition? Playing with kids who are much more or much less talented can be demoralizing and slow improvement.

These issues are also why it can be so harmful to yell “hustle” from the sidelines. Children can instantly understand if their parents are upset, but may not think through whether they were adequately prepared with things like rest, proper nutrition and instruction. Kids may even come to believe they are not “hustlers” and may slow down in other areas of their life due to lowered self-esteem.

Yelling “hustle” is a simple response to something that has many causes. If it is not clear what the problem is, parents should have a positive conversation with their child or with the coach to better identify the problem and the corrective actions necessary. Most of all, parents must be patient. Sports is a learned activity and requires time to master. The age of the player and the length of time between events give parents plenty of opportunity to get to the heart of a hustle problem.

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