We all know that parent. They’re always at game day shouting their lungs out on the side-line. Usually it’s not very encouraging things that’ll boost their child’s performance. No, that parent is the one insulting the referee or their child’s opponent. That parent is not only any coach’s nightmare, they’re any child’s nightmare. Are you that parent?
Don’t get us wrong, it is extremely important to be there on game day, but perhaps you’re trying to ‘support’ your child’s school sport in an ineffective, or even worse, a negative way.
The role of the parent cannot be over-emphasised, but there is a right way and a wrong way to support your child while they’re doing their thing on the sports field. In fact, studies on parental involvement in youth sports have shown that there’s a positive link between parents who are involved with their children’s school sports and 1) their children’s enjoyment of their sporting activities; 2) participation in physical activities; and 3) continued participation in sporting activities at school level. 1
Supporting your child: the ins and outs
What would be an effective way support your young ones in their school sport in a healthy, balanced way? Here are a few pointers:
- Remember that you are the supporter, not the coach. Being their number one fan means encouraging them at home; helping them with transport to and from practice; helping with ideas for fundraising; and equally important, showing up to see the actual game. Keep yourself from getting over-involved. Telling them what to do or what not to do on the field is none of your business - that’s why there is a coach.
- Teach them not to define success and failure by winning or losing. Your influence as a parent is extremely powerful. How you define these terms will have a sure impact on how your child will define success or failure. Get in the habit of reminding your child that school sports are about more than the scoreboard. It’s about that too, but even more so, it’s about learning and mastering skills, learning how to operate in a team, learning how to communicate, and about physical and mental wellness (aka about having fun!)
- Avoid pressuring your child to start specialising at a young age. Rather encourage them to try out a range of sports before deciding to specialise in only one thing. Researchers have started to note the value of children trying various sports before specialising in their mid-teens or later to avoid burnout. Two great examples are Andy Murray who eventually chose tennis over football and Usain Bolt who chose athletics over cricket.2
- Gently remind them that their biggest competitor doesn't have to be their biggest enemy. It would be more useful to encourage your child to build a good relationship with their competitor, and it would be useful for you to build a relationship with the competitor’s parents rather than talking them down in front of your child. A competitor should instead be seen as motivation to improve and could potentially make an excellent training partner.
- Reinforce how important it is to compete against oneself. One of the beautiful things about sport is that it’s an opportunity to constantly challenge oneself and improve oneself.
- Remember it’s just a game and remind your child of that as well. Encourage them to simply do their best and reassure them that it’s okay if things don’t go the way they wanted.
- As a parent, you have an incredible opportunity in your hands. You have the opportunity to create a love of sports and physical activity in your child at a young age which, in the long run, could help them attain and maintain a healthy active lifestyle as adults.
Positive parental involvement in children's’ school sports can help them to develop important skills such as a healthy self-esteem, motivation, and social skills. These valuable skills have also been shown to transfer and facilitate development in other areas of life, such as school and extracurricular activities.3
Where you do place emphasis and when do you praise your kids? Do you only focus on results or do you encourage personal progress?
Cumming, S. P. & Ewing, M. E. (2002 Spring). Parental involvement in youth sports: The good, the bad and the ugly! Spotlight on Youth Sports, 26(1), 1-5. http://educatedsportsparent.com/role-sport-parent/ ↩
Jones & Lavallee, 2009. http://believeperform.com/coaching/the-influence-of-parents-in-youth-sport ↩