Parents in Sport


Our biggest regional contest of the season has just passed and, while it is no longer the main focus for the guys I actively coach, it is still the biggest meet of the year for the vast majority of young swimmers in Ulster. 

They train all season to just qualify and, hopefully, swim a personal best at this meet. Some clubs competing very well off limited pool time which made me think that we are not only incredibly lucky to have as much as we do but also very ungrateful for the opportunities that we have, but that’s for another day.

I was fortunate to be able to sit back for a lot of the meet and just watch. 

Watch how swimmers interact with other swimmers, the coaches and their parents. Watch how our younger swimmers go about preparing for competition, relax between races and react to feedback at the end of each race.

I noticed that, in a large percentage of cases, the only feedback that mattered was not from the Coach but from parents. Theirs was the first face sought out, the first reaction gauged. 

It got me thinking, as a new parent, the responsibility on parents to react the correct way is huge.

As a sports coach, I want the athletes I coach to improve, to reach their full potential, to excel in this sport. That won’t happen if there isn’t a love for the sport. Without a love for it will young swimmers get up at 04:30 6 days a week? Unlikely. 

How do we ensure that young people have a long, successful career in the sport they choose?

It starts very early, sports should be fun for kids. With all the pressure and money in professional sports  (not necessarily swimming in Ireland I must admit) its easy to forget that this is not a business for the kids involved. 

The primary goal should be to have fun and enjoy healthy competition.

People compete in sports for many reasons including (but not limited to)

1. They enjoy the competition

2. The social aspect

3. Engage with being in a team

4. The challenge of goal setting

As a parent you may have a different agenda and it is important to recognize that this is their sport, not yours.

We live in a world that is focused on results and winning, but winning comes from working through a process and enjoying the journey. As parents our role should be to emphasis a focus on the process of the challenge of taking the next step, the next stroke, the next race, rather than on the time or number of medals.

We are role models for our children, the biggest influence on their young lives. As such, we should be a model of poise and composure. As I saw at the weekend, your young athlete will mimic your behaviour in how you react to a close race or a poor decision etc. Stay calm, composed and in control at these times and your young athlete can mimic these behaviours instead of the negative ones.

Here are 3 simple tips to help us find the right balance as parents.

Refrain from ‘in-game’ coaching. During a competition,  it’s a time to let the athlete trust the training and the Coach.  Save the coaching for the Coach and concentrate on encouragement instead.

Your child needs help to detach self-esteem from achievement.  Too often an athletes level of self esteem comes from their level of performance or meet outcomes. It is vital that they understand they are your child FIRST and they just happen to also be an athlete rather than the other way round. Success or number of medals should never determine a person’s self-esteem.

Ask the right questions after competitions will tell your child what you think is important in sports.  Ask “did you win?” They think winning is most important. “Did you have fun?” They assume enjoyment is the key.

Thanks 2 Dr Patrick Cohn for the pyschology guidelines

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