Most parents do a great job when it comes to sports parenting with many investing huge amounts of time and money. We are often told how we should behave and what is expected of us but that does not always have the greatest impact.
We are all trying to do the best that we can and I have often heard banded by coaches and organisations that we need ‘supportive parents, but what does that actually look like?
Based on our work and experience, here are some encouraging pointers:
We need to see the primary value and objective of sport as an opportunity for self development in our child
This can be tough as we all want to see our children succeed on the sports pitch and there is nothing wrong with our children aspiring to be the best that they can be. However, very few become professional athletes so the character skills, values and self- respect that can be learnt through sport and can be transferred into all walks of life is key. Do you celebrate and emphasise these moments with your children when you see them? Do you have discussions with your children around their personal development and not just around the outcomes?
We decrease the pressure to win
Sport itself provides many opportunities for competition and there is already some pressure on trying to win, let’s face it who does not like winning? However, adding additional pressure to our children around the outcome in the long term can be counter-productive.
We need to ensure that winning does not become everything. It can be a very fine balance to strike but what is certain is we need to ensure that our children do not define their self-worth on the outcomes of their sporting endeavours.
We emphasise continued improvement rather than unbeaten records or individual rankings
We are not really in control of the outcomes of sporting matches nor are we in control of whether our children get selected for specific teams. However, what we can control and support is in creating an environment where learning and improvement from week to week is celebrated and failure is seen as an opportunity to learn.
We stay on the ‘right side of the line’ between parenting and coaching
Unless we are a ‘parent-coach’ which has a different dynamic, please read more about that here, then it is really important that we strike a healthy balance and understand our role as a parent. This is far easier when we know that we have found a really good coach for our child, feel safe when we have handed over our children and know that the coach has all the bases covered. If parents are happy they must be aware of ‘over the shoulder’ coaching and delivering conflicting messages to their children, which can often lead to confusion and can take the fun out of the experience for the child.
We communicate directly with the coach
We have every right as parents to have conversations with the coach about anything relating to our child’s experience. If we are unhappy with any aspect of coach behaviour then we should be able to discuss that with the coach. Likewise, if there are things we would like the coach to know then we should be able to share that information as well. It helps if these conversations happen directly with the coach and not with other parents. That way we can develop a positive relationship with the coach and it does not create any negative vibes around the rest of the group.
We try to remain positive during moments of negativity
At some point during our child’s sporting journey we are going to suffer some pain and upset. We may encounter things that we personally do not like, see our children be really upset and have to deal with things that are out of our control.
If we negatively react to our own children’s mistakes and poor performances on a regular basis, there is a chance that our children will feel under increased pressure. This may lead to even poorer performances as they struggle to meet our expectations.
We will suffer at some point from dented pride, but how we react is key
By placing our children into sporting programmes we are placing them onto a public stage. As a result we may feel that our child’s performance is being judged and it may be a direct reflection on our parenting. Research suggests that parents feel judged on what their children achieve but ore often than not it is our internal feelings that create this perception. All we can ask of our children is that that they try their very best, if they have done that then we should feel incredibly proud of whatever they may achieve.
We avoid using fear as a tool
Withdrawal of love and punishment for poor sporting performance is a definite No! We all probably know this, but it does happen. Successful outcomes are rarely achieved by using such an approach.
We recognise how our children are feeling and their insecurities
Children are eager to please and none more so than pleasing their friends, coaches and parents. As a result before they even play an sport they will already feel some nerves and anxiety. Kept under control this can be healthy and positive. When children are nervous, insecure, feeling pressure or uncertain of environments it is important that we recognise this. Our emotional support at this stage is key and we should not sweep it under the carpet.
We avoid the use of guilt
No matter how much time and money we have invested we must remember that our children are not commodities. We cannot use this as a means to motivate our children. If we do there is no doubt that they will drop out of the sport at the first available opportunity.
We show a great empathy for our child
Empathy is not sympathy or agreement necessarily, but an understanding that some tasks and environments may be difficult for our young people. Ask your child ‘how can I best support you?’ particularly on match and training days.
There may well be more ways of being a supportive sports parent, but we hope that we have highlighted some of the key areas. I must add that for everything I have written above there have been plenty of moments during the sporting journey where I have got it wrong in a number of different ways and on a number of different occasions. This piece is not about being the perfect sporting parent, I am afraid that is probably out of reach, but we hope that this allows you to reflect, perhaps arm yourself with a few strategies and try to be the most supportive that you can possibly be.