TrueSport Resources

 7 Easy Vegetarian Meals for Your Athlete

7 Easy Vegetarian Meals for Your Athlete

Vegetarian options for your athlete

The vegetarian diet is growing in popularity in the youth sports community, inspired in part by the many elite and professional athletes making the leap to plant-based nutrition to maximize their athletic performance and recovery time.

Some vegetarians rely too heavily on processed foods, which can be high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium. Moreover, they may not eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods, thus missing out on necessary nutrients. TrueSport expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, adds that "vegetarians need to focus on getting common nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and B12 when it comes to meal planning, as it’s more of a challenge for young vegetarian athletes to reach their basic nutrient needs."

As a non-vegetarian parent, preparing vegetarian meals for your athlete may be challenging, but here are seven quick and easy meals that you can make for your athlete that are also packed with the nutrients they need to help them reach their sport performance goals.

Breakfast Options

Breakfast is extremely important because it jumpstarts your metabolism and provides energy for the day. Here are a few options to help your vegetarian athlete get their day started on the right note.

1. Breakfast Tacos (serving size 4 tacos)

In addition to the ease of preparation of this recipe, it’s also one that you can adapt to your athlete’s preferences, so don’t be afraid to add, remove, or alter the ingredients.

• 4 small flour or corn tortillas
• 4 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon sour cream (or milk), plus more for serving if desired
• Two dashes of hot sauce, such as Cholula, plus more for serving if desired
• ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
• 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups thinly sliced vegetables
• ¼ teaspoon chili powder
• ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
• ¼ cup shredded or crumbled cheese, optional (cheddar, Cotija, feta, goat, even mozzarella)
• ¼ cup thinly sliced green onion
• Suggested garnishes (choose a few): chopped fresh cilantro, hot sauce, salsa, or Pico de Gallo, strips of avocado or guacamole, diced tomato or sliced cherry tomatoes, sour cream

1. Warm the tortillas in a large skillet over medium heat in batches, flipping to warm each side.
2. Whisk to combine eggs, until pure yellow, and add sour cream or milk, hot sauce, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt.
3. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the vegetables, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and the chili powder and cumin. Stir to combine, and cook, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, transfer the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
4. Return the skillet to the stove over medium-low heat and melt the remaining ½ tablespoon butter. Pour in the egg mixture. Use a spatula to gently stir and push the eggs around the skillet until the eggs are clumpy but still slightly wet, about 3-5 minutes.
5. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the cheese (if using) and green onion, and gently stir to combine.
6. Assemble your tacos by spooning scrambled eggs down the length of a tortilla, topping with some cooked veggies, and your garnishes of choice.

2. Power Porridge

If your athlete prefers sweet over savory breakfasts, make this power porridge their go-to meal.

• ½ cup oats (steel-cut for more fiber)
• 2 tablespoons peanut butter
• 1 tablespoon coconut flakes
• 10 ounces low-fat milk (if your athlete is vegan, use oat milk as an alternative)

1. Measure the oats in a glass and then pour them in a pot. Pour double that amount of water in the pot and then start heating it.
2. Stir frequently, until you reach the consistency of porridge you prefer.
3. Pour in the peanut butter and coconut flakes and then mix it all together.
4. Fill bowl with the oat milk.

3. Avocado Toast

Another breakfast favorite that your athlete can make their own by adding a variety of toppings. Be sure to serve this with a protein source to make it a complete, balanced meal. Examples include: milk, yogurt, egg, cottage cheese.

• 1 slice of bread
• ½ ripe avocado
• Pinch of salt
• Optional: any of the extra toppings (garlic, radish, green onion, arugula, spinach, tomato, egg)

1. Toast your slice of bread until golden and firm.
2. Remove the pit from your avocado. Use a big spoon to scoop out the flesh. Put it in a bowl and mash it up with a fork until it’s as smooth as you like it. Mix in a pinch of salt (about ⅛ teaspoon) and add more to taste, if desired.
3. Spread avocado on top of your toast. Enjoy as-is or top with any extras.


4. Ultimate Vegan Protein Burrito (serving size 4)

With 22 grams of protein, this is a protein-packed meal that will help your athlete recover from a big day of training or competition.

• Pico de Gallo salsa
• Guacamole
• 4 large corn or flour tortillas

For Quinoa:
• ¾ cup white quinoa, thoroughly rinsed
• 1 ½ cups water
• ¼ teaspoon sea salt
• 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
• ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 3 tablespoons lime juice
• 3 tablespoons hemp seeds
• ¼ - ½ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For Kale:
• 3 cups destemmed and chopped kale
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• ½ tablespoon olive oil
• Sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions For Quinoa:
1. Add the quinoa and water to a small pot with ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-14 minutes or until quinoa is tender and translucent. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Add the black beans, chopped cilantro, lime juice, hemp seeds, sea salt, and black pepper to the quinoa and stir. Set aside.

For Kale:
1. Add the chopped kale, lime juice, olive oil, and sea salt to a bowl and massage the kale for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Set aside.

Burrito Assembly: Lay one tortilla flat on a clean work surface. Fill the tortilla with the quinoa mixture, Pico de Gallo, guacamole, and kale. Begin rolling the burrito away from you, being sure to tuck the sides in as you go. Slice in half and serve immediately. Repeat.

5.Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili

• 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 medium-large sweet potato peeled and diced
• 1 large red onion diced
• 4 cloves garlic minced
• 2 tablespoons chili powder
• ½ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 3 ½ cups vegetable stock
• 1 15-ounce cans black beans rinsed
• 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
• ½ cup dried quinoa
• 4 teaspoons lime juice
• If desired: avocado cilantro, crema, cheese

1. Heat a large heavy bottom pot with the oil over medium high heat.
2. Add the sweet potato and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft.
3. Add the garlic, chili powder, chipotle, cumin and salt and stir to combine.
4. Add the stock, tomatoes, black beans and quinoa and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir everything to combine.
5. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
6. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the quinoa is fully cooked and the sweet potatoes are soft, and the entire mixture is slightly thick like a chili.
7. Add the lime juice and remove the pot from the heat. Season with salt as needed.
8. Garnish with avocado, cilantro, crema or cheese before serving.

6. Loaded Sweet Potato

• 4 medium sweet potatoes
• 2 cups cooked black beans, or 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
• 1 cup salsa
• ½ chopped fresh cilantro
• Optional: ¼ cup mashed avocado or dry-roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1. Wash the sweet potatoes. Pierce each potato 4 to 5 times with a fork and bake in the oven or microwave.
2. Oven: Preheat the oven to 400 ˚F. Place the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake 45-75 minutes, or until tender.
3. Microwave: Place the potatoes in a microwave-safe dish with ½ cup water. Cover loosely with a lid or plastic wrap. Microwave for 10 minutes. Carefully turn the potatoes over. Microwave another 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
4. Once cooked, split the potatoes and top each potato with black beans, salsa, cilantro, and mashed avocado or pepitas, if using.
5. Note: Other tasting toppings include corn (fresh or thawed from frozen), chopped tomatoes, and sliced green onions.

7. Mexican Quinoa Stuffed Peppers (serving size 4)

• 1 cup quinoa or rice (thoroughly rinsed and drained)
• 2 scant cups vegetable stock (sub water, but it will be less flavorful)
• 4 large red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (halved, seeds removed)
• ½ cup salsa (plus more for serving)
• 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
• 2 teaspoons cumin powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
• 1 15-ounce can black beans (drained / if unsalted, add ¼ teaspoon sea salt per can)
• 1 cup whole kernel corn (drained)

1. Add quinoa and vegetable stock to a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy – about 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 375˚F and lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish or rimmed baking sheet.
3. Brush halved peppers with a neutral, high heat oil, such as avocado oil or refined coconut oil.
4. Add cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients – salsa through corn. Mix to thoroughly combine then taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, adding salt, pepper, or more spices as desired.
5. Generously stuff halved peppers with quinoa mixture until all peppers are full, then cover the dish with foil.
6. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Then remove foil, increase heat to 400˚F, and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until peppers are soft and slightly golden brown. For softer peppers, bake 5-10 minutes more.

Preparing a filling vegetarian meal for your athlete doesn’t have to be daunting. Try these recipes to prioritize your athlete’s overall health, growth, and development while supporting their choice to be vegetarian.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Should I Be Worried About My Kid Doping?

Should I Be Worried About My Kid Doping?

Performance Enhancing-Drugs and Red Flags for Parents

There’s no question that the pressure in youth sports has become increasingly high over the years. The money and time dedicated to exclusive camps, extended travel, and elite club teams have reached epic proportions in the quest for stardom, scholarships, and status. Even in youth sports, there are also many examples of success or self-worth being sought through darker means, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone.

When it comes to how success is achieved, there’s also no question that young athletes are very much influenced by those around them. In addition to parents, athletes are often influenced by coaches, trainers, medical support personnel, professional sports idols, and their peers.

Young athletes exposed to the win-at-all-costs attitudes of others are susceptible to adopting the behaviors that go along with that climate, and in some cases, may even be directed to abuse substances. These substances can enhance performance and violate the rules of sport, but more importantly, they can lead to devastating physical and mental effects.

As parents, it’s important to evaluate the influencers in your athlete’s life and be aware of substance abuse warning signs. Here are three red flag phrases that might indicate your athlete is in a risky situation or facing pressure to dope.

1. "Everyone does it."

The phrase “everyone does it” has been used to justify doping for decades at all levels of sport, from high schools to the Tour de France. This reasoning can result from exposure to PED abuse by peers, as well as the many examples of professional athletes who’ve found success through shortcuts.

Unfortunately, the life-threatening impact of this mentality is evidenced by the story of Taylor Hooten, one of the most well-known examples of a student athlete whose quest for success through steroid use led to the worst possible outcomes, including physical effects like back acne and rapid muscle growth, as well as mental effects like depression and aggression, and finally, suicide.

Taylor sourced the steroids from a local gym, and even in 2003, before widespread internet use made substances even more accessible, Taylor’s close friend Billy Ajello told the New York Times that steroid use was “extremely widespread” at the boys’ high school before Taylor’s death.

In addition to the “everyone does it” mentality among peers, Ajello believed that students construed mixed messages from coaches. ''Coaches don't come out and say, 'Take steroids,' '' Ajello told the New York Times. ''Freshman, sophomore, junior year, they tell you you're too small. A kid thinks high school sports are everything: 'I have to take it to the next level to get bigger and stronger to play.'"

He also noted, “I think the coaches know and almost kind of turn their heads. I think if they knew for sure, certain coaches would pull a kid aside and say, 'What are you doing?' I think other coaches would turn their heads, and even if they knew wouldn't say anything to a kid.''

As the TrueSport Report further confirms through national research and data, “High school and college coaches who turn the other way on bad or delinquent behavior (e.g., drinking, violence off and on the field) are sending a strong signal that such behavior is acceptable.”

2. “It’s for their health or benefit.”

In some cases, the pressure to dope may be more forceful and come directly from a person of influence in an athlete’s life. If an authority figure - whether it be a coach, medical professional, or parent – encourages an athlete to dope, it’s extremely unlikely that the athlete will be able to resist or even realize that they are doing anything wrong because their sense of security and understanding of right and wrong is frequently dependent upon the adults around them.

These trusted authority figures may also attempt to justify the behavior by insisting that a pill or treatment is necessary to protect the athlete’s health, is required for inclusion in a training group, or is the only way to achieve success. An authority figure may also insist that an athlete hide their use from friends, family, and other adults because they wouldn’t understand, which can alienate the athlete from positive influencers while further uniting the athlete with a negative influencer.

There are many examples of authority figures directly facilitating doping behaviors by young athletes, but one of the most egregious may be the case of Corey Gahan, whose own father, a trainer, and an alleged medical provider arranged for him to receive increasingly risky injections to improve his in-line skating performance. It started with b-12 vitamin injections when he was 12 and quickly escalated to testosterone and hGH injections.

“Both his father and his trainer, Corey says, assured him that the shots were for the best,” according to a Sports Illustrated article. “The prick of the needle was accompanied by a pinch of guilt; it felt, as Corey puts it, ‘like I was doing something wrong.’ But he believed in his dad, a charismatic and fiercely ambitious former high school wrestler. He also trusted his trainer, a bodybuilder who acted like a big brother. Besides, what did Corey know about the substances being injected into his body? ‘Testosterone cypionate, it's just a word,’ he says. ‘It doesn't have a meaning. At least not when you're 13.’”

By 16, Corey was breaking records at top competitions and testing positive for testosterone and another steroid. While his reinstatement from a two-year ban hinged on acceptance of counseling and a medical evaluation, Corey’s father, trainer, and the false doctor were under investigation and went on to receive jail time for their crimes.

"This case shows the extent to which drugs have infiltrated youth sports," said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis T. Tygart to Sports Illustrated at the time. "It was hard to punish this kid. Yes, he cheated and unfairly beat other competitors, but he was under his father's influence. The kid was a victim."

3. “Don’t worry, it’s safe.”

Sometimes, there is also risk from trusting an influential person even when that person respects the athlete’s health and wellbeing, as well as the rules of sport. This is especially true in today’s climate of rampant supplement use and radical health trends to support and enhance performance. But with supplements regulated pre-market and wellness clinics offering treatments banned in sport, there are many opportunities for exposure to prohibited and potentially dangerous substances, even when assurances are provided that a product or treatment is safe.

Unfortunately, a recent case involving a young and up-and-coming weightlifter illustrates this risk. Abby Raymond was just 14 years old when a family friend and fitness influencer offered her a protein powder and a pre-workout supplement from his newly formed company. The family friend assured Abby that his company’s products were plant-based, vegan, and made from all-natural ingredients. Excited about the sponsorship opportunity but recognizing the risk that supplements pose, Abby’s father pointed out that she was subject to anti-doping rules, so the products would have to be completely free of prohibited substances. This concern was met with further assurances by the family friend and company owner that the supplements were safe. After just weeks of using the supplements, Abby had an anti-doping test and soon learned that she had tested positive for ostarine, a prohibited anabolic agent that’s not approved for human use or consumption anywhere in the world. Later testing confirmed that the supplements were contaminated, to the family friend’s surprise, but Abby still received a period of ineligibility from sport and devastating damage to her reputation.

Remember, young athletes are vulnerable to the influence of trusted authority figures and their peers, so it’s important to stay alert for signs of a win-at-all-costs environment, including the red flag phrases and situations above. To learn how to support clean and healthy decisions, visit our Clean Sport Lesson.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Corticosteroids v. Anabolic Steroids

5 Facts You Need to Know About Corticosteroids v. Anabolic Steroids

Educating athletes on the effects and warning signs of steroids

When athletes or their parents hear the word ‘steroid,’ they may envision a muscle-building, performance-enhancing drug that not only destroys the integrity of sport, but also comes with extreme health risks – especially for young athletes.

When it comes to steroids, however, that description is only one piece of the equation. There are actually multiple classes of steroids, including anabolic steroids and corticosteroids, which have different uses, side effects, and performance-enhancing qualities.

Amy Eichner, PhD, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Special Advisor on Drug Reference and Supplements, explains five things you need to know about steroids, including the difference between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

What are steroids?

Steroids are a class of compounds that all have a similar structure and bind to hormone receptors in the body. Anabolic steroids bind to the androgen receptors, whereas corticosteroids bind to the glucocorticoid receptors – leading to different effects on the body.

The body naturally produces testosterone, an anabolic steroid, that regulates bone and muscle mass and fat distribution, as well as sex-drive (libido) and red blood cell production. The body also naturally produces cortisol, a corticosteroid. When cortisol binds to the glucocorticosteroid receptor, it activates a metabolic pathway that suppresses inflammation and immune responses.

There are also many synthetically produced anabolic and corticosteroid compounds, some of which are legitimate medicines and some of which are not.

What are they used for?

Prescription use of testosterone can be used to treat hypogonadism in men, or to prevent the loss of muscle associated with HIV infection. In some teenage boys that have been diagnosed with delayed onset of puberty or a genetic abnormality, testosterone injections are sometimes prescribed to kick-start growth and development.

Corticoids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. Corticosteroid creams can be applied to the skin to treat poison ivy rashes, or contact dermatitis, whereas corticosteroids in pill form can be taken to treat allergies, as well as autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Inhaled corticosteroids are effective in treating asthma, and corticosteroid injections into joints can treat inflammation related to sport injuries or arthritis.

Are there side effects with steroid use?

Corticoids and anabolic steroids not only differ in the primary medical uses, but also in their potential health risks and side effects.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency lists some physiological effects of both, as well as psychological effects from anabolic steroids:


- Short-term side effects include an increase in appetite, weight gain, insomnia, fluid retention and bloating, and mood changes like irritability and anxiety
- Long-term use of corticosteroids can result in loss of muscle and/or bone mass, thinning of the skin (with topical use of corticosteroid creams), high blood pressure, diabetes, weakening of injured areas in muscle, bone, tendon, or ligament, decrease in or cessation of growth in young people
- Withdrawal from long-term use of corticosteroids can cause fatigue, weight loss, and nausea


- Acne
- Male pattern baldness
- Liver damage*
- Premature closure of the growth centers of long bones (in adolescents) which may result in stunted growth*
- Stunted growth and disruption of puberty in children

- Increased aggressiveness and sexual appetite, sometimes resulting in abnormal sexual and criminal behavior, often referred to as “Roid Rage”
- Withdrawal from anabolic steroid use can be associated with depression, and in some cases, suicide.

NOTE: * Effects may be permanent and can vary by individual.

Why are steroids considered performance-enhancing drugs in sport?

Anabolic steroids are performance enhancing because they have such profound, long-term (several months) effects on muscle mass and strength. Athletes that use anabolic steroids still benefit from their effects long after they stop using them. For this reason, anabolic steroids are prohibited at all times, during competition and in the off-season, by athletes subject to anti-doping rules.

Corticosteroids offer more immediate performance-enhancing benefits. Injections into muscle or oral corticosteroids reduce the pain and inflammation that often occurs with extreme exertion. Athletes have reported that corticosteroids help them push through the pain of extreme exertion and allow them to recover faster for the next event. The benefits of corticosteroids wear off pretty fast, which is why they are prohibited in-competition only.

What are the warning signs of anabolic steroid abuse?

Some teenagers abuse anabolic steroids in order to build muscle and get the body they want. Parents are often very surprised to learn how easy it is for their kids to access illegal steroids. The FDA has issued warnings about such abuse.

If an athlete is abusing anabolic steroids to enhance their performance, there are a few patterns of use they may employ:

• Cycling: The person ingests anabolic steroids in cycles of 6-12 weeks (known as the "on" period), followed by four weeks to several months off.
• Stacking: Users combine several different types of steroids or incorporate other supplements in an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of the steroids. This is called "stacking."
• Pyramiding: Some users gradually increase the dose to a peak, then reduce the amount.

According to a report, 3.3 percent of high school students admit to anabolic steroid use and another study found that 8 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys report using products to improve appearance, muscle mass, or strength.

If you suspect your athlete is abusing steroids, here are gender-specific physical changes to look for:

- Breast tissue development*
- Shrinking of the testicles*
- Impotence
- Reduction in sperm production

- Deepening of the voice*
- Cessation of breast development
- Growth of hair on the face, stomach and upper back*
- Enlarged clitoris*
- Abnormal menstrual cycles

NOTE: * Effects may be permanent and can vary by individual.

If your athlete has been misusing anabolic steroids and they suddenly stop taking them, they can also exhibit symptoms of withdrawal, which include:

- Fatigue
- Restlessness
- Mood swings
- Depression
- Insomnia
- Cravings

Help your athlete understand that there are serious health consequences associated with the use of steroids, especially anabolic steroids. These substances can end up illegally in supplements and are fairly accessible on store shelves and online, so your awareness and diligence is critical.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Pivoting for the Goal

Pivoting for the Goal

How to Help Athletes Through Mid-Season Adjustments

A recent study found that children today are under significantly more pressure to be ‘perfect’ than past generations. If you’re halfway through the season and it’s not going the way you hoped, it’s also easy for you and your team to fall into a slump. When the goals you set at the beginning of the season are suddenly unattainable, how can you and your athletes find motivation to keep going?

As a coach in this tough environment, you can show athletes that not reaching a goal isn’t the end of the world. Rather, it’s a chance to re-focus and pivot towards a new, more attainable goal.

Frank L. Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, explains how you can help your athletes learn to pivot from their original roadmap and make mid-season adjustments that will help them realize their new goals.

Explain that progress is success too

Many of us have been taught that once a goal is set, anything short of that goal is a failure. But that simply isn’t true. Smoll suggests coaches advise young athletes not to “set goals in stone, as they’re meant to be revised.”

Sometimes the original goal an athlete makes isn’t attainable within the given timeframe or due to changing circumstances, especially if the goal wasn’t SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely). At this point, let your athletes know that it’s time to re-evaluate and adjust the goal, even if that means focusing more on progress.

Smoll adds, “Often, kids can think about goals in black-and-white, in success or fail terms. But we want to teach them about the process. It’s a matter of being able to see where progress is being made and to evaluate and consider why an athlete is making progress, or why they aren’t. And, it’s not always about working harder, it may be a problem with the goal that was set.”

Talk about goals early and often

Smoll wants to remind coaches that student-athletes often aren’t taught about goal-setting, so you can’t expect them to naturally gravitate towards process-driven goals: many young athletes see victory and success in simplistic terms.

“We have to remember that these athletes are kids,” he says. “It’s easy for us to say these are the principles of good goal-setting because we’re adults and this information is readily available to us.” But that’s not always the case for young athletes.

Make sure you encourage goal-setting at the beginning of the year, and regularly revisit goals throughout the season to evaluate progress and make changes as you both see fit.

Set different types of goals for one season

“I often talk about the idea of the game within the game. The overall objective is to win a game, but if you’re playing against a really superior team, set other goals within the game. You’re not bailing out, you’re being realistic,” says Smoll.

For instance, he challenges coaches to re-frame the team’s thought process and think, ‘Maybe the final score isn’t going to be in your favor, but what can you be in control of? Of course, you’ll try to win the game, but along the way, you’ll have some other achievements as well.'

Coaches can encourage athletes to think of new objectives to achieve during the games, such as staying positive and focusing on teamwork, or other intangibles that are frequently overlooked in favor of scores and yardage.

Ask ‘What if results didn’t matter?'

Smoll shares, “A sports psychologist I know went to his son’s swim meet, and his son was still swimming when the other kids already finished the race and were out of the pool. He started to feel bad for his son. But his son touched the wall to finish, jumped out of the water, and was absolutely thrilled.”

Smoll continues, “The athlete was elated because he had just beat his previous best time. My friend felt so stupid – his kid had made tremendous progress, but my friend failed to recognize the individuality of that. He didn’t win the race, but he did meet his goals.”

Why is it important to emphasize that success isn’t based on results alone for young athletes? Because every athlete’s goals are different. Remember there’s a way to pivot from obvious goals to focus less on results and more on personal development.

Provide constant feedback

Often, we wait until the end of the season or until it’s well past time to ‘turn the ship around’ on an overarching goal. But if you’re constantly evaluating and giving feedback to players throughout the season, you’re more likely to stay the course and meet those goals – or revise them along the way as needed.

“Athletes should know where they stand throughout the season and not find out that they’re being benched right before championships,” says Smoll. He adds that athletes should set up their own evaluations too, as this teaches personal responsibility.

Smoll concludes, “It’s great to have an overarching goal for the season, but even legendary football coach Don James once explained that he would have a season goal for the team, backed up by a massive binder of smaller, broken-down goals for each player for the season.”

It might seem a bit extreme to keep a full binder for a high school sports team, but make sure that each person on the team has individual goals that aren’t related to the team’s overall performance. That way, even if the season’s primary goal isn’t being met, you’re able to pivot to focus on individual goals so athletes recognize how their hard work and dedication led to meaningful achievements.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 How to Celebrate Wins When One Kid Isn't Winning

How to Celebrate Wins When One Kid Isn't Winning

Helping your athlete prioritize progress

A young athlete’s teammates, siblings, coaches, and teachers can leave a lasting impression, but parents have the greatest impact on how a child feels about his or her performance in sport, says Joel Fish, PhD, sports psychologist and author of 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent. 

When you have two or more children in sports, it can be a challenge to give each one the same level of positive attention — especially when one seems to be winning all the time, while the other is struggling. Fish shares advice on how to find the right balance between celebrating success and prioritizing progress rather than just winning. 

 Praise Effort Not Results  

It’s natural to be excited about a win, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating it, says Fish. “But focus more on your core values versus results: make sure you’re praising other successes, like developing new skills or putting in a strong effort. You have a great opportunity to teach children multiple goals — there are other ways to define success that aren’t results-driven.” 

This applies to both your winning child and the one who’s struggling in sport — it’s a great way to give both children equal amounts of praise and attention. 

 Check Your Reaction  

Understanding how important your reaction is, and becoming aware of it, can go a long way towards promoting good behaviors on your part. 

“You have an immediate emotional reaction when a child wins, or when one loses,” Fish says. “That’s the main issue — and if you can pay attention to how you’re feeling and reacting, what your reaction is to success or failure, then you’re better able to manage those feelings and give a more value-driven response." 

Make Sure Everyone Gets What They Need  

It can be a challenge to manage a budding career for a highly talented young athlete while making sure that his or her siblings are still thriving as well. Some sports, like figure skating, involve immense amounts of travel and even potential relocation, and Fish notes that it’s important to take your other children into account in those times. 

That may mean a larger family discussion about moving to a different city, or, on a smaller scale, simply making sure that your other children also have activities that they’re passionate about, even if they aren’t getting the same kind of results. 

 Consider Shifting Focus  

“If your child who is struggling or not having success in sport still enjoys being on the team and having fun, that’s great,” says Fish. “But remember, that child can also consider exploring other sports if he or she isn’t having fun. Parents get stuck trying to channel kids into one certain sport but there’s a huge range of activities for kids to get involved in. I’ve seen kids go from team sports to something like cycling and really flourish, so you may want to try other sports and keep in mind that what one of your children likes, the other may not.” 

 Be Mindful of the Winning Child  

You may think that the biggest challenge is making sure that the athletes who aren’t winning don’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem because of their talented sibling, but the child who’s winning deals with immense pressures as well. 

Even though your focus should be on effort, give praise when either your athletes achieve something great – like a win. A win is still a win, and your athlete should be recognized for the hard work they contributed to achieve that. 


“There’s a lot more prestige connected to winning now, compared to 30 years ago when the mentality was more centered around the motto, ‘it’s not about if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,’” says Fish. Today, the landscape has shifted for how parents view youth sports. Winning has meaning to it. So, when one sibling wins, and another doesn’t, that’s a challenge for parents in a way that it never was before. 

Excitement around a win and disappointment around a loss for your kids are both completely normal feelings, says Fish. Just remember that as a parent, it’s your job to also make sure that your child doesn’t feel as though your love and approval is conditional on their results in sport. 

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.