Drawing from sport psychology research on parenting, here are five ways you can support your children in sport.
These strategies apply during childhood and adolescence, but are particularly important for children between the ages of 10 and 15.
If you are a sport parent, remember one golden rule: consistency is critical. Be consistent in your behaviours and words. Inconsistency creates confusion.
1. Provide emotional support
This refers to providing unconditional love. It is especially important during challenging or stressful times. You are the number one source of emotional support for your children in sport. They need someone to turn to. Emotional support must be unconditional and not dependent on how well you think your child may be playing or competing.
2. Emphasize effort and personal improvement over outcome
When you put too much emphasis on winning and losing (these are outcomes), your children can experience anxiety and even reduced motivation to stay involved in sport. It is better to focus on effort and personal improvement.
Helping your children understand that you value them trying hard above all else, and reinforcing when they are getting better, is really important, especially when they are young and still learning about how to compete.
3. Foster independence
It is okay to be highly involved in your children’s sport, but the evidence suggests that high involvement must be balanced with providing children with autonomy and independence. You can set boundaries but allow your children some freedom and independence within these boundaries.
For example, a boundary might be telling your child, “You must always be prepared for practices,” and the independence might be, “You are responsible for making sure you have your equipment and water.” As your children demonstrate they can be personally responsible, you can experiment with giving them more freedom.
4. Communicate and share goals
Why does your child play sport? What are their long-term goals for sport? Have you ever asked these questions? If not, you should, because good sport parents communicate with their children and help support their children’s goals for sport.
Some children may want to excel and reach high levels of sport. Others may simply wish to experience the joy of participating without aspirations of reaching a high level.
You should support the goals your children have picked rather than trying to impose your own goals. And remember, your children’s goals may change as they progress through sport. It is important to ‘check-in’ with them as they age to ensure you are providing the necessary support.
5. Behave how children want you to behave before, during, and after competitions.
Several studies have involved asking children what they want from their parents before, during, and after competitions.
Before competitions children want parents to help to help them relax and make sure they arrive on time.
During competitions children want parents to encourage the entire team, maintain control of emotions, stay positive, and focus on effort rather than outcome.
After competitions, children do want positive yet honest feedback, but parents should be careful to read their children’s mood before discussing performances.
Let the coach take care of the technical and tactical advice and focus your feedback on the effort and attitude of your child.