This interview was carried out by Richard Cashman of the Sporting Influencer on Saturday 11th November 2017.
The full and original interview can be found in 2 parts here:
Can you give us a bit of background information on yourself?
I am Gordon MacLelland. I am currently based in Yorkshire and have been involved in sport all my life as a player and a coach. I played county cricket as a schoolboy and was an England trialist at U19 level in rugby union. For the last 20 years I have had a coaching career that has encompassed all age levels from 7 year olds to adults. I was coaching men’s rugby union at the age of 23 after injury curtailed a playing career and have coached rugby, football and cricket to juniors up to the age of 18.
I have a BA/Hons degree in Sports Science from University College Chester and a PGCE from Lancaster University.
I’m a qualified teacher and have been a Director of Sport at an independent prep school in the UK for the last 10 years. I have also worked in schools in New Zealand.
How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports environment?
Undoubtedly the parent has a significant role to play. They provide the most emotional support and are key role models in any young person’s life and can have the greatest impact. They also provide the most financial and organisational support in most cases from transport, buying kit, finding the right sport and coaching and the weekly logistics getting children from A to B. That is why we believe so passionately in what we are doing in supporting them.
What are the benefits of embracing parental involvement within youth sports?
This generation of parents are different to before and want to be involved in far more aspects of their child’s life. We need to recognise this and embrace it. Many are keen to help and support but are unsure of the best way to do this. Many are peaceable human beings who just want what is best for their child and need direction in how they can best support. If we can engage parents then the benefits are huge. A positive training and match day environment, coaches and parents focussing on delivering similar messages(no confusion for the child) and more importantly everyone working together(no us and them).
There can be major benefits for the clubs from parents engaged positively. Help with transport, fundraising, food and drink, work on social media and crucially creating an environment where many more people will want to come and join a club creating such a positive experience.
What have we tried to do here at WWPIS to help support clubs, coaches and parents?
We recognised that in the world there are very few dedicated websites just for parents in sport. We wanted them to feel valued and create a portal where they could go to access information without having to trawl the internet.
We also felt that many failed campaigns by clubs and governing bodies had centred on preaching to parents as opposed to really engaging them and we wanted to create a neutral social media channel on Facebook and Twitter that presented information in a variety of different formats but crucially with a degree of empathy towards them and not in a threatening or shaming way. The social media side is important for us as many clubs and organisations give out some material at the beginning of a season much of it along the right lines but we wanted to provide a service giving those messages out throughout the year to reinforce positive messages and behaviour.
Our pocket book for parents that can be made bespoke to organisations stemmed from this. It is a proper published piece of work as opposed to a sheet of A4 and we feel that parents who get it feel like some care has gone into the information. Although only a 50 page pocket book the difficulty for us was creating a product that was short, easy for everyone to understand and crucially in a price range affordable by all. For us we want to work with clubs and organisations not take over from them, hence we are delighted when people change our cover and the images within our book to suit their organisation. It adds a really personal touch.
When you purchase ‘Great Sports Parenting’, you will also receive an exclusive code which gives you access to even more information about this very important area of sport on our website in our members area.
This exclusive material has been written especially for sporting parents by Nino Severino, the former British No.1 Tennis Coach and member of Team GB 2012 Olympics (as a member of the Great Britain Tennis Olympic Team.)
Nino has been coaching junior as well as senior athletes for over 30 years and has a wealth of experience in junior coaching and parent support. The juniors who have benefited from Nino’s coaching and knowledge have been at all levels, from club, county and regional to world class.
The material you will get access to has been specifically developed for parents in sport and is an invaluable source of information which could make all the difference to your child’s enjoyment and performance in their chosen sport.
We feel in its price range alongside the book, website and social media, it will be the largest global resource in its price range dedicated to supporting parents in sport.
We have also created three presentations that we deliver, one for organisations, one for coaches and one for parents. We also run bespoke workshops as well with the aim being to try and align all three of these key stakeholders. Without these three key areas working well together many systems in this area are destined to fail.
What challenges have you faced when attempting to embrace, educate and involve sports parents?
The reality is that many adults do not like to be told what to do. Many do not like to be preached at and the biggest challenge is finding ways of engaging them in a fun, friendly and none threatening or shaming way. We believe that we have a few strategies to make this work, I am not sharing them on here or no one will want to hear us talk.
We believe that in this area external voices are better, people who can be honest and open without the parents feeling under pressure or worried about their child being selected or having to face people from within the club week in and week out. We have also seeked out exciting games for the adults to play and have fun during their presentation so they really feel like they can buy into the process.
As a result we try not to use ‘educate’ in any of our material and much prefer to say we are supporting parents. We need to remove this ‘us and them’ tag.
Have you seen a difference in youth athletes when youth sports parents positively embrace their role by supporting the player also the whole team?
Of course. A positive culture that focuses on the things that matter can lend itself to an amazing environment being created for the player by the coaches and by the parents on the sidelines. Notice we use the word positive culture here. We are not going to say winning is not important; of course it is and can be to many people. However, if a culture does not use this as its major and only success criteria then we can expect to see a major shift in attitude.
A club culture should be focussing on processes, creating an environment where learning and skill acquisition can thrive. The culture should also be positively praising hard work, commitment, great communication, resilience, self-organisation and decision making. If we can get coaches and parents to understand, and see this being rewarded then maybe the focus can shift and we are more likely to see positive behaviour from all parties.
What advice would you give coaches that are unsure/nervous about preventing negative behaviour/comments from the sideline and educate parents within youth sports?
I feel very sorry for young coaches and those who are volunteers in particular in this area. With experience and as their communication skills improve they are far more likely to tackle these areas.
However, clubs and organisations need to take the lead, the coaches should just be setting their own example on a consistent message that has already been communicated by people higher and more experienced people than them. There should be messages, policies and procedures in place that allow the coach to positively reinforce the club culture without the fear of any backlash from parents.
There are a number of things that coaches can do to help this relationship. However, please take a look at the infographic below which gives a basic framework for things for coaches to think about.
For those parents unaware of their influential role, what advice would you give parents?
You are the key person in their life. Never underestimate how big a role model you are. You have the opportunity to help shape your child and their love of sport for many years to come. You should also be enjoying it along the way – it will not last forever.
Try to improve your knowledge of what your child is going through, please visit us at www.parentsinsport.co.uk. If you are armed with the correct information I genuinely hope and believe that you will make better and more informed choices from keeping things in perspective, the car journey home and match day on the touchline. I personally have certainly moderated my own behaviour with my own children over the last couple of years and it has been a far more enjoyable experience.
What types of behaviours/mannerisms/comments would you encourage parents to demonstrate?
Positive, Positive, Positive! Don’t over talk a match before, during and after. A child doesn’t think or behave like adults unless we make them or they have seen it from us.
Display positive body language at all times, your child will make mistakes and there will be moments of failure. They need to see you being happy and consistent no matter how you are feeling on the inside.
After matches or training, leave them alone unless they want to talk to you. It is their game and if they want to they will talk to you about it I promise! Please try not to give them the Match of the Day debriefs on the way to the car and in the car on the way home.
You are their parent, enjoy it, be a great role model and have a wonderful sporting experience together.