Setting Expectations–The Early Years

Come Ready or Never Start

Setting Expectations:  Getting Started




The Come Ready or Never Start philosophy for guiding your child through his or her youth sports participation emphasizes laying the proper foundation for these activities by setting the appropriate expectations for this beneficial experience.   


When your child is first exposed to the opportunity to take part in organized sports, it is important for the parent to explore why they want to participate.  You must do a little probing to find what their motivations and level of interest really are. 


Is it something they want to do because their friends are involved?  Is it something they are doing to please you?  (I hope not!)   Have they seen the sport on TV or exposed to it at school and thought it would be fun?   Is it the chance to get out of the house and be active that appeals to them?  Do they want to grow up to be a professional athlete?   From there, the proper expectations can be set, based on their answers.


At this age I like to break down their interest into three levels:




There should be a different set of expectations based on each level of interest.  And I want to make it perfectly clear that no interest level is intrinsically better than any other.  At each level the child can enjoy the benefits of sport participation.


A passive interest means that children are participating in organized sport just because it’s fun for them—something to get them out of the house.  They enjoy being with their friends.  The games are not more important than practice because they don’t view competition (winning and losing) as important.  They’re out there to get exercise and enjoy the feeling of being active.


They can still benefit from many of the intrinsic values that lie in sport participation.  Expectations should center on:

  • Practicing good sportsmanship
  • Learning and following team and sport rules
  • Being on time to practices and games
  • Doing the best they can, giving 100% effort
  • How to overcome adversity (i.e. getting knocked down and getting right back up)
  • Listening to their coaches and respecting their authority
  • Learning to interact with children in a team situation that may be different from them—either by skill level or personality
  • Learning what it means to work for a goal within a team concept

Please note:  You don’t see any expectation set around winning or losing, or individual accomplishment.  They are not ready for these expectations yet based on their interest level.


A moderate interest means that your child wants to win and specifically desires to advance his skills, but it is not an all encompassing concern for them. 

If your child falls into this category expectations can be added that address performance.  Expectations should still include the ones addressing the basic values that sport can teach mentioned above.  But the emphasis should be on setting expectations that begin to address how they can become better skilled at the sport and help their team succeed.

  • Learning that they won’t win every game and that’s not important because the goal is to just do their best to help the team win
  • Reinforcing the expectation that practice is the only way they’ll get better
  • Setting an expectation for them to find out from their coaches how they can improve


An extreme interest  means that the child takes every game seriously.  They already have a competitive drive fueled by beating the other team.   Many are more naturally gifted than their teammates.  Some have trouble tolerating teammates with lesser skill levels. Mood swings may follow times when they haven’t had a good game.  Expectations should center on the healthy aspects of competition, realistic expectations of performance and skill improvement and how they can help make their team better.

  • A greater emphasis on setting an expectation that it’s not about winning and losing, but about getting better
  • An expectation that practice is still vitally important
  • An expectation that being more skilled doesn’t mean they should display any less effort
  • The need to set an example for teammates—both in practice and during the games
  • Helping other players become better
  • Knowing that they will have both good games and bad games and how to deal with each


Setting, discussing and reinforcing these expectations with your child is all about communication.  Communication prior to signing up for the activity and after the sports participation is over.  What were the child’s expectations prior to signing up?  How were those expectations met after the season has been completed?   Communication immediately prior to and after practices and games—outlining what his or her expectations are; suggestions on what they should be; and discussing how they were met and can be better fulfilled at the next practice or game.   Sure it’s important to find out if they had fun.   But don’t ignore other kinds of expectations that should be an integral part of their sport participation.  It’s about parents having the discipline to proactively address these issues with their children and not relying on the coaches.  It’s about parents suing the Come Ready or Never Start to help their children set proper expectations.







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