Parents in sport, an asset or liability

What parents can do to support their child’s participation in sport.

Any parent who has attended a sports event where their children are participating will have been exposed to all types of parental behaviour: good, bad, and ugly; across the spectrum from the uninvolved ‘supporter’ to the fanatical. Yet despite the differences in behaviour all parents have one thing in common (even the hostile and abusive parent). They want the best for their child and for them to get the most from sport. The parent has more influence in shaping the child’s attitude and behaviour in sport than any other person, so its important they offer the right level and type of support and involvement.

Understand the benefits of participation in sport for your child.
The benefits of the child’s involvement in sport are enormous and too great to risk losing. Now here is the second factor that determines if a child stays involved in sport, this is whether they believe it is worth it? For parents this means you need to highlight the benefits and let children experience the benefits of participation.
What are the benefits? I have taken the time to list a few of the many below.

What is the parent’s role in sport?
Their role is to provide:
Parental support, to give the necessary, emotional, physical and financial support. This means parents modelling the right emotions for their children, helping them manage the emotional highs of training and competition such as joy, pride or fulfillment and manage the lows such as disappointment, sadness or frustration that can come from training and competition. Parents will also need to provide such things as transport for their children, be awake in the morning to give them breakfast before training and make time to watch them train and compete. They will also need to dip into their wallet to pay for sports equipment, coaching, competition fees and so it goes on. The sad reality for some parents is that participation in many sports is becoming prohibitively expensive.
Parental encouragement, to do what they can to contribute to their child’s enjoyment of sport. This means giving feedback, praise, and recognition. There are 2 critical factors that determine whether a child stays involved in sport, the first is: whether they believe they are able to play the sport (the second factor I will mention in a moment). If they don’t believe they are able, interest and involvement will drop. So parents, take an active interest in your child’s sport, encourage them, instil self belief and reinforce a realistic can do attitude.
Parental Pressure, this can be perceived by children as positive or negative. Clearly the parent needs to provide the right amount of pressure. Parents, if you want to know if you are using the right amount of pressure, ask yourself is: the pressure I am applying motivational and is it contributing to my child’s enjoyment of the game? Coaches are too familiar with parents having unrealistic expectations for their children or having their authority undermined by parents who know best.

    • Building self confidence, managing pressure, increasing resilience.
    • Understanding competition and learning how to win and lose
    • Learning about sportsmanship, playing in teams, and the importance of teamwork
    • Transferring skills from sports into the big arena of life, skills such as leadership, problem solving and decision making
    • Dealing with adversity
    • Learning new skills
    • Belonging, meeting new people, increasing their circle of friends
    • Improving their physical health.

And for parents in case you need incentive to be more involved with your child’s sports, here is a list of benefits for the parent. You get to share your child’s experience of sport, the frustrations, successes and joy and you have the the satisfaction of watching your child:

    • Enjoy themselves
    • Learn and develop in their chosen sport/s
    • Play and grow

There is also a direct benefit for the parent, they have the opportunity to interact with other parents, children and the wider community.

Simple parental guidelines for supporting your child’s participation in sport
Provide your child with the necessary support, encouragement and pressure
Highlight the benefits of participating in sport and let your child experience them. A child will not experience confidence if you constantly remind them they are falling short of their goals.
Appreciate the benefits you as a parent derive from your child’s involvement in sport
If you follow these guidelines, children are more likely to consider their involvement in sport worthwhile and themselves as able in sport.

A question to reflect on: does a parent’s effectiveness depend on how they see their involvement in sport or on how the child perceives the parent’s involvement?

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