We are delighted to have the thoughts and views of Stuart Lancaster here on the WWPIS blog around sports parenting. Stuart is currently a senior coach at Leinster rugby having previously held the role of England rugby head coach. We hope you enjoy the interview.
What is the role of the sports parent in facilitating their child’s athletic development?
Since undertaking the role as coach of my son’s under 9 rugby team several years ago, my view of sports parenting really changed. It suddenly dawned on me the huge influence that parents have on their children and I am not just talking about the coaching side of the game. I am talking about my role as a parent in my own children’s sporting journey.
There is so much that we can do as parents from playing games with our children, getting involved and interested in their sport and asking the right type of questions at the right time (a difficult skill!)
It’s not all about winning and being at the top of the league but providing a environment where they are having fun, enjoying the experience and encourage them to self-reference their own strengths and weaknesses.
Lots of parents can be guilty of asking the did you win and did you score questions but so much more can be gained from the questions that allow our children to reflect and we work with them to help and suggest improvements if that is what they need from us.
As a coach I would often get all the parents around and set some homework for their child so that they could hear and reinforce key messages. I did not feel it was my role to tell them how to parent but wanted them to understand a bit more about the game and be more involved in the process.
Have you taken this type of approach with all age groups?
When children first start getting involved in sport and in fact right through the sporting journey, parents remain the number one influence. However, as they move from mid to late teens the parental role certainly changes, and parents take on more of a supporting role and perhaps coaches take on a greater influence and significance.
Is there a particular type of approach parents can follow so their child can reach their full potential?
Building a strong self-identity in your child is really important so your child has strong self-worth. Supporting your child by focussing on their personal values and attitude is equally as important. I have seen so many young players not as talented as others whose work rate and attitude has taken them all the way. We need to celebrate hard work when we see it in our children so that they can cope when some of the tough times come, which they inevitably will. Giving our children space, not doing everything for them and creating some self-reliance is vital in supporting individuals to reach their full potential.
Remaining positive and painting the glass half full is often the way to go, turning negatives into positives, learning from all experiences and trying to get away from looking at what the problem is to asking what is the solution?
Painting our children as victims, making excuses for them regularly can often be seen in how the children behave themselves but we know that we need players to be responsible for their own actions and influencing them to take their own responsibility is probably one of the greatest gifts that we can give.
In fulfilling their full potential, it will be a combination of their technical, tactical, physical and attitude traits but for me attitude will always be the most important.
Where do you feel parents can get it wrong in their approach?
The ultra-competitive parent, the one who wants to win at all costs in 99% of cases will have a detrimental effect on their child’s development. We all want to win, and we are all competitive, but we learn just as much about ourselves when we lose. Lots of these parents believe that shouting from the side or having coaches who are dominant on the side-line are the most effective for their child. However, it is a self-defeating policy as players can become scared to try things, they shy away from being creative and taking risks and ultimately take no responsibility for their own actions.
The parent who lives their own life and dreams through their own child and who did not quite make it themselves can also have a detrimental impact often building up their child to be better than they are and I worry about the impact it has on the child when things don’t work out.
Do you have any tips for sports parents in dealing with their child’s coach?
It is a tough role being a coach. It is a tough role being a parent and every parent wants their child to be successful. Unfortunately, the law of sport is the most talented and hard working will make it to the top and coaches often have to make difficult decisions that affect players and their parents.
Selection can often cause the greatest angst and I believe that the best coaches inform parents about why they are doing what they are doing, and this allows them to hopefully positively reinforce it at home. Parents should have the right to have a discussion with coaches, but this conversation is key. Both parties need to try to be polite and supportive of each other in the best interests of the child.
What qualities should parents be looking for when deciding on a coach?
You need to have a coach who has some technical and tactical knowledge of the sport they are coaching, that is a given for me. However, we also need coaches who have skills in helping develop the self-identity, self-motivation and positive thinking in individuals that we talked about earlier.
The icing on the cake is the coach who is able to build positive relationships, who are emotionally intelligent and emotionally stable to manage all the situations that sport inevitably will throw up. If a parent can find a coach with all of these their children will be in safe hands.
Stuart has a huge range of content around leadership, coaching and sports parenting. To find out more please click here.