This is such an important question that I get asked a lot, the answer is both simple and complex. Simple because the key is to know yourself and your child. Complex because we spend our whole lives trying to figure out who we are, on top of that, our children are constantly changing and in this very complex environment your role as a parent is also everchanging. My mum used to stay and watch my swimming trainings when I was little and later on, she just dropped me off and picked me up after training. The key was for me to know that she is still there supporting me. As for my dad, he always used to tell me before a competition: just have fun. I had two different kind of support systems behind me and to me that was all I needed.
Every system, every workplace, every environment functions at its best only when everybody knows what they are doing. Think about manufacturers, the object only reaches a perfect finish when every single machine on the way completed only their job but perfectly. But we are not machines… making this journey full of ups and downs.
The athletic triangle devised by Hellstedt (1987) is a great representation of the systems behind “manufacturing” your child. The athlete (your child) relies so heavily on the pillars of this triangle, the support of you as a parent and the coach. They further rely on everybody doing their own job, e.g. coach to coach and parent to parent, again sounds simple and straightforward. But countless times the parent tries to step into the coach’s shoes and shout from the sidelines advice that might completely goes against what the coaches said. This will only cause confusion and break the triangle.
So have a go, write down all the aspects that you think are your roles as parents. Keep in mind that these roles might change overtime as your child progresses within their sport. You could take a look at this with your child and ask them what are they responsible for? Explore what they need from you?
But even when all you want for your child is the best, sometimes … and we all know this … it does not translate into our actions. But why is that?
This is a self-awareness model by Giges (2014), but you could look at it as an iceberg… The crucial thing to understand here is that your behaviours are what other people see and therefore react to, even though they are dramatically influenced by your own thoughts, feelings and wants. However, nobody can see those. It almost does not matter that you just want your child to grow, be happy, benefit from life lessons learned in sport and to succeed if you show the opposite with your actions. Imagine how your child feels if they see you shaking your head after they make a mistake? Or when you disagree with the coach/officials?
So have a go at this, what is your instant reaction to your child getting substituted or getting disqualified? Now, once you have honestly admitted what is going on at the behavioural level, work yourself down the pyramid, what are your thoughts and feelings behind that, and lastly, what is your fundamental want for your child? If it is all linked, brilliant. If it isn’t, have a go at how you could best show them with your behaviours. And keep in mind .. Every success and failure should be seen as a learning opportunity and chance to grow stronger and wiser.
When I see parents shouting from the sidelines I know (I hope) they all want what is best for their children. But especially at a competition, you have so many emotions running through your head as well. It is nerve-racking to see how your child is going to compete. Because you can’t control that… you can’t control the outcome. But what you can control is how you are supporting your young ones. And you can do that by identifying your roles and responsibilities, exploring the self-awareness model, and by simply asking them what do you want me to do? what do you want mum/dad to do before/during/after the competition? What snacks do you want for the car journey? Do you want me to smile during the game/competition no matter what happens? Do you want me to loudly encourage or stay silent? Do you want to talk about wins or losses in the car journey after a game/competition? Without knowing the answers to those questions you don’t have a job description, and without a job description it is incredibly challenging to figure it all out.
Lastly, a few tips and some guidance:
· trust the coach
· focus on the things that you can control
· ask your child about their goals
· communicate about their needs
And most importantly… the key is love as always! They just want you to stay mum and dad and to support them no matter what!
Giges, B. (2014). My work in sport psychology. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent
Hellstedt, J. C. (1987). The coach/parent/athlete relationship. Sport Psychologist, 1(2),151-160.