Sport parenting is a phase in life that most parents go through; it could be that their child has decided to take on soccer, swimming or tennis practice after school, or even pursue a career in sport. Whatever the chosen field and level of involvement of the child, parents play an important role in how young athletes evolve throughout their sporting journey. Sport parents will not only have to drive their child to (and be present during) practice, competitions and tournaments, but they are also there to offer emotional support and encourage their child to realize their potential in a healthy manner.
It is widely accepted that psychological strength and emotional wellbeing are vital for the success of young athletes; evidently, the parent will play a crucial role in this. However, a parent should not get caught up in their child’s sport experience and lose perspective.
It is true that parents do not like to see their children fail or be disappointed, but their desire to see their child succeed and be perfect may add unnecessary pressure, negatively impacting the child’s wellbeing and consequently their sport performance. Unfortunately, some sporting parents end up treating their child’s sport as an investment, expecting something in return; when a parent’s self-worth is based on the child’s success, this will result in parents being pushy. There is a fine line between being pushy and being supportive, and care must be taken to find the right balance in order to both maintain a healthy relationship with their child, but also to allow the young athlete to develop values that will contribute to their future success.
Rather than being pushy, sporting parents should support, encourage, advise their children as to how to handle situations that they have not previously encountered (e.g. performance anxiety, competition setbacks etc.) and teach them good sportsmanship by conveying values such as fairness, respect for other athletes and accepting losses gracefully. In order to strike the right balance between being supportive while not being pushy, a parent may consider the below:
- Provide unconditional love and support regardless of the young athlete’s performance or results; treat your child the same after wins and losses and do not change plans based on the outcome of a competition.
- Help your child develop confidence by praising hard work, emphasizing that mistakes are an important part of learning. Make sure to focus on the effort made rather than the result and always encourage persistence if your child finds certain situations challenging.
- Encourage your child to have fun and enjoy their chosen sport rather than focusing on winning as it is important that the child strives to improve regardless of the result.
- Avoid trying to coach your child or push them into excessive training, as young athletes are at risk of overuse injuries – this is why they have a coach who knows how to optimize training and how to best balance it with rest and recovery.
- Help your child manage stress and anxiety by encouraging them to discuss any concerns they have and explaining that anxiety is something that all athletes experience and that it is the body’s way of getting ready for a competition. You may even introduce them to some basic strategies to deal with stress, such as breathing and mindfulness techniques.
As a sporting parent, it is important to be there for your child, and convey the right message, which has been best laid out by Deloris Jordan, mother of basketball legend Michael Jordan: “You have to apply yourself and work hard. And when you work hard and do not expect anyone to give you anything, you can be successful. You may not reach the goals that you set for yourself, but you can walk off the court saying I feel good about who I am because I gave it my best”.