Being a parent to a sporty child means lots of time standing outside in the rain, waiting inside in the car, and hanging around sports halls for activities for kids to finish. If you’re not into sport, then you might even consider this time to yourself. But for parents in sport that are fully immersed and involved, this can be a stressful time.
Holding back doesn’t come easy when you have an urgency to help your child. It’s only natural as a parent to want to offer feedback and encouragement. But it’s also important to remember that some approaches work better than others, and some places are more appropriate than others.
Straight after training or an event, especially in the journey home in the car is not the place to spark a debate or argument.
If you’re guilty of this, or not quite sure which category you fall into, read on to see how you can better improve your approach.
Don’t ask lots of questions
Much like school, after a training session it’s common for a child to be somewhat monosyllabic. They’re tired, physically and mentally, since physical activity for children can be very demanding. Instead, choose your questions carefully. Pick perhaps two or three questions that you can glean the most information from.
Don’t bombard them, this will only create tension and one-word responses. Children need to be given enough space for reflection on their own, as well as explain it to their parent or caregiver.
Feedback is an important part of learning. But there’s a difference between constructive learning and criticism.
Criticism is not a way to encourage child development through sport. What children really need is “unconditional support and encouragement” and not another sports coach, according to experts.
Instead, invite your child to reflect on their performance after training. Ask them to think about how they could improve next time, as well as areas they are proud of. In sports psychology, this is a technique widely adopted by coaches.
By nature of being a parent in sport, it can be challenging not to face conflict and disagree with your child. But straight after a game, try and allow them to reflex, repair and recover. It’s not the right time for argument, and will only cause anxiety and tension all round.
Note to self: If there was a parent’s code of conduct for sports it would suggest to communicate, talk and listen, rather than shout, fight and argue.
Parents in sport tend to be very involved. But just like our own lives, children’s privacy and space needs to be respected.
The conversation in the car on the way home from coaching should be kept light. Let your child lead the conversation and listen if they don’t want to chat about something. Try not to force the conversation, especially if it’s an issue they clearly don’t want to talk about.
Straight after training, or an event, is not the time for the Spanish Inquisition! Your child needs time to themselves – or if they do want to talk, then they will volunteer this information to you.
But try not to be a pushy parent in sport. You can do this by not questioning your child’s actions. This will only serve to undermine them and affect their confidence. Let them come to you.
Comparing performance and ability
It’s part of the human condition that we instantly compare ourselves to others. But when you start questioning your child’s performance and comparing it to others, it can become destructive.
Part of the joy of physical activity for children, is being able to enjoy sport without limitations. If you start asking your child to compare themselves to everyone around them, it may lead to unhealthy habits for the future.
Being encouraging to your child is a great way to be a supportive parent in sport. But to be clear, this isn’t about being a coach – it’s about being a parent. And it’s good to know the difference.
The last thing your child wants after a stressful training session is to be coached all over again by their parent. More importantly, your advice may conflict with the sports coach, which can be extremely confusing for their learning.
Children learn in many ways – through their own mistakes, through positive encouragement and though trial and error.
Specifically, experts believe that children learn through discipline – not punishment. So, if you think that punishing your child for their performance after training’s through, then think again. It can be extremely damaging to their confidence and self-esteem.
Take the approach of the sports coach – that effort should be recognised and awarded, rather than ‘winning or losing’ per se.
If sport teaches us anything, it’s that through hard-work, commitment and training, we can better ourselves and improve our skill set.
Vocalising disappointment to our children can be extremely detrimental to their self-esteem, at a time when they are still learning and growing as people.
If your child has slipped up, then this is an important part of their learning journey. Any sports coach will tell you that.
Sadly, shouting at them will not make the situation better, or enhance their learning. Instead, a greater approach is to encourage your child to reflect on their performance. Let them decide what could have been improved, as well as what they were proud of.
Sports coach responsibilities are about developing their sporting prowess – yours as a parent is about just being there for them. Keep that in mind, in the car journey and at home, and you won’t go wrong.