As a mum of two sporty boys myself, I am very familiar with the role of a parent, guardian or carer[i] in a young athlete or sportsperson’s life. We are more than just a taxi driver, at-home chef, kit cleaning service and number one supporter. Often overlooked is what goes into creating an environment in which they can thrive and the emotional support we provide, win or lose.
We are part of the ‘team behind the athlete’ – which also includes the coach, manager, doctor or physio, and maybe even a nutritionist, psychologist or strength and conditioning coach. This team is often referred to as the Athlete Support Personnel (or ASP) who collectively play a role in making a young person’s sporting experience a positive one.
In the world of sport, we also talk about ‘key influencers’ – parents certainly top the list of most influential role. They shape a young person’s experience of sport right from the point where the decisions are made on which after-school clubs or local sporting activities they attend – with the focus being on what is the child going to enjoy doing?
Further down the line, when that young person potentially starts to identify as a young sportsperson, the list of key influencers grows but parents will remain critical to their experience. Not least, they will remain the eyes and ears of their young sportsperson, guiding them to make informed decisions as they equally try to encourage independence, responsibility and ownership as part of the process of growing up.
Yet research by UKAD found that, despite feeling highly motivated to learn and support their child through all stages of the athlete pathway, parents often lack the confidence to effectively support their child when it comes to anti-doping. Read more on these findings here: Why Parents Matter in Clean Sport.
Underpinning this parental support should be the development of a mindset that believes in winning well as opposed to winning at all costs. This mindset sets the tone for a positive environment for their continued participation in sport, whilst acknowledging responsibilities to adhere to the rules that govern sport. This also includes creating a culture of a level playing field for all, promoting Passion, Respect, Integrity, Determination and Enjoyment to their young sportsperson.
Essentially, any person assuming the role of parent should be able to define their own values and relate these to their own participation in sporting activities and/or their support of their young person.
Follow these top tips to help you do your best to help them do their best:
- Set their moral compass
Encourage hard work, commitment and taking personal responsibility – and remind them of the consequences of being caught cheating. These values set the foundation for young sportspeople to take part in sport and maintain that positive experience, regardless of the challenges they may face along the way. Education also has its footing in these values and learning how to compete clean is no different.
UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has an education programme dedicated to instilling these values in all young athletes, aptly named ‘100% me’ and is underpinned by an ethos that we want all athletes to be able to stand on the podium and state that it was all ‘100% me’. This ambition for clean sport is upheld globally by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
- Recognise when they are vulnerable
Being a great athlete takes a long time – allow them to enjoy the highs and lows of the journey and keep things in perspective. Remind them they are still developing physically, mentally and socially. It is often hard to distinguish between changes associated with ‘growing up’ and those which may be indicative of something more untoward. Accepting that there may be moments of vulnerability as your child develops into their own independent being is also critical to recognising when they may be susceptible to making an ill-informed decision due to external factors and/or other key influencers. For example, when away at boarding school or university, you will need to be able to recognise some signs of doping-related behaviours and be able to support or help them to seek support as necessary.
- Be Informed
Model and encourage appropriate behaviour and decision-making, on everything from fuelling and recovery to managing injuries and coping with the maturation process. There are some rules that also apply to you as parents in terms of maybe knowingly providing them with a supplement which contains a banned substance, for example, or tampering in any part of the process. You need to understand what this means and how it impacts on you and your young sportsperson, so UKAD’s Clean Sport Essentials Guide for Parents & Carers of Young Athletes should answer many of your questions.
- Understand the concept of Strict Liability
Ensure your young sportsperson is fully aware of their anti-doping responsibilities as an athlete. Fundamentally, athletes are ‘solely responsible for anything they use, attempt to use or is found in their system, regardless of how it got there and whether they had the intention to cheat or not’. You may be surprised to learn that the greatest risk to a clean athlete is the unintentional or accidental use of a prohibited substance. This may be present in medication or a supplement product they are taking. Under anti-doping rules, even if an athlete uses a prohibited substance accidentally, the consequences may be the same as if the action had been deliberate.
- Check everything
Engage with your doctor and/or pharmacist and use GlobalDRO to check any prescribed or over-the-counter medications are safe to take. Remind your child to tell any healthcare professional that they are an athlete and have to abide by anti-doping rules. Start with your medicine cabinet at home – do any of those contain banned substances? Practice using Global DRO together by checking all tablets and medicines at home.
- Maintain records
Keep a list of all medication your child is taking on your phone, in your diary or in UKAD’s Clean Sport app[i] – this app is available to all athletes and parents, providing current information and advice regarding anti-doping in the UK. You just need to select the National Governing Body (NGB) you are affiliated with in order to receive specific and relevant information. There are sections in the app dedicated to medications, supplements, testing, athlete rights and responsibilities… (and more!)
- Food First
Promote a balanced diet and positive lifestyle choices. Even where a supplement is deemed necessary by a medical professional (doctor or nutritionist), for iron deficiency for example, there is no guarantee that any supplement is free from prohibited substances. Always assess the need, the risk and the consequences before making any decisions. Unintentional doping can have just as severe consequences. Where a supplement is deemed necessary, minimise the risk of contamination from banned substances by checking they are batch-tested.
- Know what happens at a test
Ensure you and your child are familiar with the testing procedure; a video is available here on the UKAD website. If your young sportsperson might be eligible for testing, then more information is available on the Clean Sport app or in the Clean Sport Essentials guide for Parents & Carers already mentioned. These resources will guide them (and you!) through what to expect, what to know and do in advance and the provisions in place for those athletes under 18 years of age.
Are you keen to learn more?
Visit UKAD’s Clean Sport Hub and sign up for the Introduction to Clean Sport eLearning course, which will further educate you as part of that support team on how to support your young sportsperson on their clean sport journey. Many parents like you have undertaken the programme and found it beneficial in being able to provide the right advice and guidance.
This blog was written by Claire Lane, Clean Sport Education Officer with UK Anti-Doping
[i] Where the term ‘parent’ is used, this reflects all those assuming the role of parent, guardian or carer of a young person
[ii] Available through Apple or Google Play