Parents, guardians, and carers play an extremely important role in the sporting lives of children and adolescents. Without your support and encourage it is unlikely that many children would be able to participate in sport. As such, we believe it is very important that parents are involved in their child’s sporting lives and have access to information to optimise their involvement.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy as a parent to know what you should do in different situations or how you can best help your child to have a positive and enjoyable sporting experience. The challenge of supporting your child’s sporting experience is made even more complicated with the vast amount of information available and the constant listing of “good” and “bad” behaviours. Sport parenting is a complex, individual experience that goes far beyond lists of behaviours you should and shouldn’t display.
Optimal parental involvement in sport will look different for different parents because children have different needs, parents arrive with different experiences, and parents and children will encounter different situations throughout a child’s sporting journey. The first step to optimal involvement in sport is tailoring your behaviours to these different needs and experiences. To do this, regular communication with your child is key .
As a parent, what influence am I likely to have on my child’s sporting career?
A big one! Through the support and encouragement your provide to your child you can help them to participate, enjoy their participation, and achieve their potential. As a parent you can influence your child in a variety of ways, including as a role model, a provider, and an interpreter of their sporting experience.
Parents as Role Models
Your child will learn a lot from watching you. If they see you participating in sport, enjoying learning new skills, and responding positively to challenges or loses, they are likely to replicate these behaviours. Similarly, if they see you maintaining control on the sidelines, being respectful of the referee and other parents, cheering on both teams, and promoting positive sportspersonship, they are also more likely to demonstrate these behaviours.
Parents as Providers
The most obvious way in which you will impact on your child’s sporting experience is through your provision of opportunities, information, and support. Specifically, as a parent, you are responsible for providing: • Tangible support – p a y i n g f o r equipment, coaching, competitions, and travel, committing time to taking children to training and events, ensuring children are fed, clothed, and ready to go! • Emotional support – being there to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong, supporting your child whether they are winning or losing, and helping your child to navigate the bumps in the road they will inevitably face. • Informational support – giving your child important information about their training and competition schedules, helping them communicate with their coach, and keeping them informed about their sport. Through this support you are enabling your child to engage in sport. Without your support, their sport wouldn’t be possible!
Parents as Interpreters
Through your comments and responses to your child, you help them make sense of their sporting experiences. For instance, when you talk to your child about winning and losing you are emphasising the outcome of a performance and a child is likely to judge their success based on whether they won or lost. In contrast, if you focus on the different skills that can be gained from sport and emphasise enjoyment and making friends, children will be more likely to judge their experience in this way.
How can I help my child achieve their potential in sport?
Your child is heavily reliant upon your support and guidance to succeed in sport. However, it is not always easy to know what to do to help your child reach their potential because there is lots of conflicting advice and many unexpected demands and challenges associated with sport. Below are a few strategies that you might find useful to help guide your involvement.
Communicate with your child: Ask them what they like, what they enjoy, what they want to achieve, and most importantly how you can help them.
Develop a strong relationship with your child’s coach: Take time to learn about their philosophy and what they are trying to achieve. Seek to support them as much as possible.
Engage in independent learning: Sport is constantly changing, so it can be useful to learn about your child’s sport and what is required as they progress.
Keep sport in perspective: Sport is just one part of a child’s life. If sport becomes too consuming it can be challenging for you and them.
Focus on the multiple benefits of sport: Most children will not become elite athletes but they can still gain a range of benefits from participating in sport. For instance they can gain physical, psychological, and social skills. As you invest time and money into sport, remember you are investing in these skills not just whether your child becomes an elite athlete.
Learn about your child’s competition needs: Talking to your child about what will help them before, during, and after competition can be really useful.
Understand your child’s perceptions of your behaviours: Sometimes we can do things with the best intentions, but to a child these actions may be interpreted entirely differently. Try and understand your child’s perspective.
Foster independence: As your child progresses in sport it is important that they can cope alone. Wherever possible, enable your child to take responsibility for their sporting development.
Hold children accountable for their behaviour: Competitions can be really challenging for children but this doesn’t mean they can behave inappropriately. Ensure they demonstrate good sportspersonship when competing.
Enjoy the experience: If you can enjoy your child’s sporting journey, it will be much easier for you and your child. Try and remember all the positives that you and your child are gaining from their sport participation.
How can I ensure I am involved in my child’s sport in the best possible way?
Every child is an individual and it is really important that you understand that the best way to be involved in your child’s sport will be unique. No two children will want exactly the same thing from their parent, so it is really important that you talk to your child to find out what behaviours they like. However, there is some evidence to indicate that certain types of involvement are likely to be more beneficial than others; these are described below.
Strive to understand and enhance your child’s individual sporting journey
As a parent it is important that you recognise that your child’s sport is a journey, that could take a number of years. Over this time, the demands and requirements on you and your child will change considerably. Ensuring that you are a l w a y s e n g a g e d i n a w a y t h a t demonstrates an understanding of this journey and that is aiming to improve your child’s experience is key.
Ensure you and your child have the same goals for sport and communicate about these goals frequently
If you and your child have different ideas about why your child is involved in sport or what they want to achieve it is likely to cause conflict and difficulty down the line. Ensuring that the two of you are starting on the same page, and remain on the same page over time, will help to ensure your support matches your child’s needs.
Develop an understanding emotional climate
How you support and engage with your child at home, training, and competitions will all influence your child’s perception of your involvement. Striving to demonstrate that you understand the challenges associated with competing in sport, the complexity of succeeding, the influence of factors outside of sport, and also the importance your child places on sport will all help to demonstrate an understanding of your child’s experience.
Engage in enhancing parenting practices at competitions
What you say and do at competitions can have a large impact on your child. As such, Identifying and then attending to your child’s competition needs will be really helpful. Also, helping your child to develop strategies to cope with the various challenges associated with competition is useful. However, perhaps most importantly, ensuring that you develop strategies to manage you own competition emotions is vital to optimise involvement.
What are the best things to do at competitions?
Sport competitions are emotionally charged environments, with lots of potential to say or do the wrong thing. Youth sport competitions are one of the only achievement environments in which you actually watch your child perform; you will see them succeed and you will see them make mistakes and there is often little you can do to help. Within this environment it can be really hard to know what to say or do. Our best advice is to take the lead from your child; ask your child what she/he likes you to do before, during, and after competitions and then try to do this! Below are a few suggestions from athletes we have spoken to, as you’ll see less is often more desirable than more.
Before Competitions :
Suggest tactics if your child asks for them (but avoid contradicting coaches)
Give your child time and space to be alone/be with their team
Recommend and reinforce good pre-match habits but do not try and do everything for your child
Remind your child you will proud of them whatever the outcome
Emphasise effort, attitude, and enjoyment
Keep relaxed and calm
During Competitions :
Attend competitions to demonstrate interest
Be attentive to the match throughout
Show your support by clapping and cheering appropriately during the match
Have a positive and happy attitude
Keep a neutral or happy expression throughout the match
Be respectful towards your child’s opponents and the referee/umpire
After Competitions :
Allow your child to discuss the match with teammates and their coach first.
Only talk about the game if your child wants to
Comment on effort and attitude rather than the result
Keep your behaviour consistent whether they won or lost
Be realistic about the performancerather than finding excuses
Give positive feedback first and keep it simple
Ensure your child has food and time to recover
Give your child space if they have lost
How can I help my child manage set backs and challenges?
As a parent it can be really hard to see your child facing challenges and set backs. Unfortunately they are an inevitable part of the youth sport experience and as a parent you can play an important part in helping your child cope with this. However, before you can help your child you first need to make sure that your own emotions are not impacting on the situation (see the parents’ experiences section for some suggestions).
Supporting the Development of Coping Strategies For athletes to develop coping strategies it is important for parents to:
1. Develop a supportive relationship with your child. They need to know that you are there for them when things don’t go well. Take time to ensure you show your child that you understand what they are experiencing but also allow them to develop their independence, so that they have confidence in their ability to manage.
2. Help your child to reflect on the experience they are having. Ask them questions about the situation, help them to put the experience in perspective, share your experiences with them, and where possible provide opportunities for children to practice coping skills.
Athletes Learning to Cope
It is important to realise that encountering challenges is not always a bad thing. As athletes encounter different challenges, they will also learn new coping strategies. For example, athletes are likely to try a number of different strategies in different situations, some of these will work and others won’t. As a parent you can encourage them to reflect on their coping attempts to identify what they might try the next time they encounter a challenge. Through this process of trial and error, athletes with gain a whole range of coping skills which will help them as they progress in sport.
The importance of supporting the development of active coping strategies
Research has shown that those parents who help children to engage in active coping strategies, that is strategies that aim to address issues and challenges are seen as more supportive than parents who encourage children to ignore or downplay challenges. By actively helping you child to manage challenges, you are demonstrating that you understand the situation and you support your child’s development and growth.
How can I work with coaches to ensure my child has the best experience?
The child-parent-coach triad can be very powerful; each person will contribute to helping a child grow as a person, become a better athlete, and overcome challenges. But, it is not always easy to maintain positive relationships. By understanding each others’ priorities a lot of frustrations can be avoided and everyone can have a better experience!
Things parents do that may frustrate coaches:
Showing a lack of knowledge about the rules and etiquette of the sport
Demanding too much of the coach’s time
Hold excessive expectations about a child’s sport
Putting pressure on a child at competitions
Not respecting the coach’s role by giving tactical or technical directions during training or competition that contradict the coach’s instructions
Things coaches do that may frustrate parents:
Not giving equal or fair play time, displaying favouritism
When children are not having fun or learning in training sessions
Not understanding child development
A lack of preparation or attention for training
Poor organisational skills
Poor or limited communication
A lack of respect or understanding for your role as a parent
How to strengthen the relationship you have with your child’s coach
Understand and anticipate the behaviours that may frustrate the coach (and vice versa). Try and avoid such behaviours or talk to each other about why they may be present.
Get to know each other: Talk after training, go to parent meetings, volunteer at the club
Learn about the coach’s philosophy and how they will approach your child’s training and competitions. Support this philosophy or, if it is not right for your child, consider alternatives.
Respect the coach’s private time and the time she/he needs for training. Try to talk at an agreed moment
Talk about your problems and frustrations early and try to understand the coach’s perspective.
Learn about your child’s sport and the rules of the club/organisation
Show respect for, and trust, your child’s coach
Six tips to maximise your involvement in your child’s sport
1) Select appropriate opportunities for your child and provide necessary support Evidence consistently indicates that children benefit from sampling a range of sports when they are young before specialising in one or two sports when they move into midadolescence. As a parent you will face lots of conflicting information but encouraging your child to participate in a range of sports will be helpful.
2) Understand and apply an authoritative or autonomy-supportive parenting style People parent in lots of different ways and we need more research about the pros and cons of different approaches in sport. So far, it appears that if you adopt an autonomy-supportive approach, whereby you provide your child with choice, allow them some flexibility over demands, and provide guidance rather than strict instruction, it can be helpful.
3) Manage the emotional demands of competition and role model this for your child With all the emotion associated with competitions it is easy to find yourself acting in ways you wouldn’t normally! Taking time to understand what impacts on your behaviours at competitions and developing strategies to manage these demands is really important.
4) Foster and maintain healthy relationships with others in the sport environment Children’s sporting experiences are influenced by lots of people, particularly their coach(es) and other parents, so as a parent developing effective and friendly relationships with these individuals is important. If you have good relationships with others in the sport environment you can share lifts and information and ensure you know what has been happening in training and competitions and match your comments and guidance to that of the coach.
5) Manage the organisational and developmental demands placed on you. Unfortunately youth sport can be very demanding for parents. To be able to best support your child, it is really important that you are able to manage these demands and have some strategies in place to reduce the impact they can have on you and on you and your child’s relationship. Some suggestions to manage these demands are provided in the parents’ experiences section of the sportparent.eu website.
6) Adapt your involvement to the different stages of your child’s sporting journey What children need from their parents changes as they progress in sport and encounter different challenges. As a parent, being aware of when your child’s needs change is really important. Engaging in constant communication with your child about the support they need from you is the best way to do this.
Written by World Wider Soccer
All credit given to the author
The Sporting Influencer