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'Just enjoy watching them play': IMG Academy warns parents about pressuring young athletes

Bradenton school trains the physical & mental health of athletes
IMG Academy Football
Posted at 11:15 AM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 18:13:46-04

With so many young athletes dying by suicide recently, a Bradenton school that specializes in training young athletes, explains how their program has involved the mind, body and spirit for decades.

"It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to struggle a little bit," explained Taryn Morgan, the Vice President of Athletic and Personal Development at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

Morgan said mental health has been as important as physical health at their school from the very beginning.

"Every week here, they have a mental session as part of their program. So it's very proactive training. They also have mental coaches that are doing live coaching out at their sports, in the dugout, on the sidelines. They can come meet with the mental coaches, one to one, if they would like. And then we also just make it a part of what we do. So it's not something that's a stigma. It's not something that's different. It's training," she explained.

And that mental training can be the separating factor in any sport.

"You can have two people who have equal physical talent and ability, but who's going to win? And it's going to be usually that mentally tougher athlete. And we see a lot of examples across many sports and across the world," she said.

And since perfectionism often makes athletes successful on the field, it can carry over into other aspects of their life so coaches are always on the lookout for red flags.

"If we're always trying to be perfect, and failure is not an option, that sets us up for failure. And it sets us up for disappointment. And that's where we see it, where people have that expectation, that's unachievable is when then the problems come," Morgan explained.

And that's where Morgan and her team remind the athlete, that it's okay to be human.

"It's okay to make a mistake. It's okay to not be perfect. Here's the things you're striving towards. Here's the process to get there. And not so much just about that outcome," Morgan added.

And showing weakness or admitting to need help, can actually make you stronger.

"Unfortunately, there's an old school mentality sometimes that you have to never show any weakness. But I don't actually think it's weakness to make mistakes. And I don't think it's weakness to need help. It actually means you're open-minded. It actually means you're willing to learn and grow," she explained.

And Morgan said parents need to be careful of what they say to their athlete because it can make a permanent impact on their psyche.

"They play sports because it's fun. It's social. They love it. And when we take that away, and we scream and yell and put the pressure, they're scared. They get scared to make mistakes. They lose confidence. The amount of kids that have told me that is shocking," she admitted.

So what should you say, when your child is done with their game or match?

"There's actually a lot of research out there that says the best thing to say as a parent, is when your kid finishes and they get in the car, 'I love to watch you play.' Just enjoy! Enjoy watching them play. Enjoy the fact that you get to see them do something they love, and that it's fun for them," she said.

And she reminds parents not to put their own egos into the game or on the field.

"Kids will find their drive. Kids will develop in their own time. And a lot of them develop later. And so being okay with that, and not having to make them be perfect is probably the best gift you can give your kid," she said.

All mental coaches at IMG have a background in sports psychology and the school also has a partnership with Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, where they provide a clinical sports psychologist on campus.