Parents – their role in elite sport.
Dr Camilla Knight from Swansea University studies parents and their role in youth sport and this week I spent an afternoon listening to her talking about her research.
Parents of elite child athletes are generally represented in the media as pushy and competitive but Dr Knights research suggests that actually, the majority of parents “get it right” the majority of the time. “Its worth remembering that parents are almost always the ones responsible for introducing their children to a sport, they transport children to training and competitions, pay for the equipment, the coaching, and any travel and also provide the majority of encouragement and support”. “When athletes win big competitions, its almost always their parents they thank first.”
So why do parents have such a bad reputation ?
Unfortunately, parents may not be able to get it quite right all the time and when this happens their actions can negatively influence their own children as well as impacting their teammates, opponents, other parents, coaches, and the officials.
What Dr Knight and other researchers in the area have found by talking to children, coaches and parents, is that the assumption that parents are overly invested in their children’s sport, that they are living their unfulfilled sporting dreams through their children, or are aggressively pushing them to become the stars of the future, is an oversimplification. When children participate in competitive sport it places huge demands on the parents. Youth sport generally requires financial support as well as a huge time commitment. Weekends can be extremely demanding. Parents often spend long periods of time in less than comfortable environments to support their children and are repeatedly rescheduling their own lives and work, so that their children can get to competitions and training. Many parents have two or more children and can be doing multiple runs a day.
Studies exploring ‘parent stressors’ in UK Football and Tennis academies found that uncertainty about the format of the competition and what was expected of them, feeling un-included by other parents, feeling ‘not in the know’, worrying about work and the time commitment needed and worrying about money, were higher concerns for parents than their child’s specific performance and that juggling these worries along with the aspirations of their children, was sometimes too much.
Parent / Coach relationship
At a recent seminar I attended for coach development, the lecturer asked the coaches to write down the three hardest things about coaching. Of the 28 coaches in the room, only two people didn’t have parents at number one or two. Coaches almost all have stories of inappropriate parent behaviour but despite the difficulties coaches might encounter with some parents, research has found that most parent-coach relationships are positive.
Working with parents is an important and necessary component of the coaching job and parents often rely heavily on the support and guidance of coaches, as they seek to provide their children with the best possible sporting experiences. Talking to parents, they say that they would like to work with their children’s coaches and to be able to rely on them for information regarding their child’s development, goals and potential progression as well as for their emotional support. Parents would like coaches to have more of a mentoring role, taking time to listen to their and their children’s problems and to work on solutions. Unfortunately, with the majority of early years coaches being volunteers and the elite coaches being time stretched, this depth of support is rarely possible.
One of the main difficulties for parents is knowing how to behave at competitions, particularly when they are stressed and when their children are performing badly or left on the bench. Research talking to coaches, children and parents has come up with common do’s and don’t’s. These are given below.
|BEFORE COMPETITION||· Provide practical information regarding nutrition and warming up but do not become repetitive.· Ensure athletes are physically prepared for competition, there on time, well fed and have all equipment they need.· If parents have appropriate knowledge provide some technical and tactical advice.· Cater to the child’s needs for mental preparation. Music / silence / talking.||· Don’t make any comments that focus on the childs performance eg “you always play well when it rains” “if you win this one you will play XX next…”·. Don’t communicate any expectations about winning or importance of winning.· Limit technical and tactical advice (especially if you don’t have experience/knowledge or if coach is there).|
|DURING COMPETITION||· Behave in accordance with the rules and etiquette of the sport.· Support (clapping) both teams / players· Match all non-verbal behaviours (facial expressions) with verbal support.. Maintain positive tone and body language.· Attend matches and pay attention to games but stay relaxed
· Keep support focused on effort rather than outcome.
· Maintain control over positive and negative emotions
. Do not become too involved· Help make the whole team feel comfortable
. Support all players
· Shout to or at officials only if children are in danger
· Praise and thank the officials
· Praise good performances and provide encouragement if things have not gone as expected.
· Be empathetic and consider the feelings of all children before singling any out.
· If advice is requested do not give it whilst child is on the pitch / court
|· Dont intimidate opponents· Display any overt interest in the game outcome.· Don’t draw attention to yourself either through over involvement, over excitement or criticism.· Don’t get involved in the match· Don’t single out your own child for support or encouragement and not others· Don’t criticise your child or their team
· Don’t display negative responses during games for example using a negative tone to give feedback
· Don’t coach in any form unless you are the coach
· Don’t contradict the coach
· Don’t repeat the coaches instructions during the game
· Don’t argue with officials, coaches or other parents
· Don’t disrupt children so they lose concentration.
· Don’t engage in derogatory behavior such as booing
|AFTER COMPETITION||· Provide feedback on effort and attitude·. Keep feedback positive but realistic. Identify the good parts of the performance but do not exaggerate or be overly positive when the performance was not good.· Wait until children are ready to receive feedback – this may not be when they first ask for it.||· Don’t criticise player performance·. Don’t blame the outcome on others. Eg team mates, defence, goal keeper, referee .· Don’t focus on the negative aspects of a performance.· Don’t say anything about performance in front of teammates or opponents|
Taken from: Holt, N. L., & Knight, C. J. (2014). Parenting in Youth Sport: From Research to Practice. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
I have not seen this information before and some of it made slightly awkward reading. Dr Knight emphasised that this advice should not be taken as gospel and that every situation and individual is different, but that it should be seen as a starting point.
Dr Knights advice is that parents should remember that it should be fun, not necessarily just for the child but for the parent as well. She also recommends more communication between coaches and parents, so that the goals for an individual or a team are better understood.
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