A Primer for Handling Success in Track and Field Athletics

Witnessing a child’s success in sports is a rewarding experience for any parent. However, managing and nurturing an athlete’s accomplishments is crucial for their long-term psychological and social development. This comprehensive article provides guidance for parents on handling their child’s success in track and field, emphasising the importance of maintaining humility, grounded perspectives, and psychological well-being. With the support of research-based advice, parents can effectively foster the overall development of their young athletes.

Maintaining Grounded Perspectives

While celebrating victories is essential, keeping young athletes grounded promotes long-term success. Parents should:

  • Help athletes understand that wins are not guaranteed and should be enjoyed in the moment (Gould, 1993; Fraser-Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2008). It is essential to communicate that progress and effort are more important than winning itself, which contributes to a healthier mindset.
  • Teach them about the uncontrollables, such as other athletes’ development and the dynamic nature of sports (Côté et al., 1995; Strachan, Côté, & Deakin, 2011). By emphasising the uncontrollable aspects of sports, parents can help young athletes learn to focus on their personal growth and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
  • Ensure that their happiness, approval, and love do not depend on the athlete’s performance (Horn & Horn, 2007; Knight, 2016). Parents should express their love and support unconditionally, fostering a sense of self-worth that extends beyond athletic achievement.

Focusing on Process Over Performance

Emphasising the process rather than the outcome of competitions helps young athletes develop a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). Parents can:

  • Encourage young athletes to set and work towards specific, measurable goals (Locke & Latham, 2002; Harwood, 2018). Establishing both short- and long-term goals can help athletes maintain focus and motivation throughout their athletic journey.
  • Praise effort, determination, and resilience rather than just wins (Duda, 2013). This approach encourages young athletes to value the learning process and recognize the importance of perseverance.
  • Help athletes reflect on their performance to identify areas for improvement (Smith & Smoll, 2007; Harwood & Knight, 2015). By facilitating self-analysis, parents can empower young athletes to take ownership of their progress and strive for continuous growth.

Fostering Humility and Healthy Relationships

During adolescence, social approval is crucial for healthy psychological development (Steinberg, 2005). Ensuring young athletes remain humble fosters positive relationships with their peers. Parents should:

  • Model humility by treating other athletes, coaches, and officials with respect (Gano-Overway et al., 2009). Demonstrating respectful behavior helps young athletes learn the importance of sportsmanship and fair play.
  • Teach the importance of sportsmanship and showing gratitude for opportunities to compete (Shields & Bredemeier, 2009; Lauer et al., 2010). Emphasizing the value of respect, camaraderie, and appreciation can contribute to an inclusive and supportive sports environment.
  • Reinforce the idea that success in sports does not make an individual superior to others (Gano-Overway et al., 2009; Camiré, Trudel, & Forneris, 2012). Promoting humility and empathy can help young athletes develop strong connections with their peers, both on and off the field.

Promoting Emotional Intelligence and Self-Reflection

Helping young athletes develop emotional intelligence and self-reflection skills can enhance their psychological well-being (Lane, Devonport, & Friesen, 2016). Parents can:

  • Encourage athletes to express their emotions and discuss their feelings related to successes and failures (Laborde et al., 2016; Vealey, 2007). Open communication about emotions can help young athletes develop coping mechanisms and resilience in the face of challenges.
  • Support self-reflection by discussing events and competitions, focusing on growth opportunities and learning experiences (Coulter et al., 2016; Harwood et al., 2015). Guided conversations can facilitate critical thinking and problem-solving skills, enabling athletes to better navigate their athletic journey.
  • Model and promote empathy, understanding, and support for teammates and competitors alike (Jones, 2009; Harwood & Knight, 2015). Encouraging compassion and empathy will contribute to a positive sports culture and foster strong relationships among athletes.


Dealing with success in track and field may seem straightforward for parents, but understanding the psychological impact of winning is crucial for a young athlete’s development. By maintaining grounded perspectives, focusing on process over performance, fostering humility and healthy relationships, and promoting emotional intelligence and self-reflection, parents can nurture their child’s talent while supporting their psychological growth. The foundation laid through these practices will not only help young athletes excel in their sport but also aid in their overall personal development, equipping them with valuable life skills.

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  23. Useful additional reading here: (PDF) COPE WITH SUCCESS IN SPORT (researchgate.net)