Jeffrey Webster MBPSsS, MSc, BSc.

Sporting News with a Psychological Perspective

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Creating a Positive Environment for your Child Athlete

It goes without saying that every parent wants what’s best for their children in all aspects of life, whether this be at school, socialising with friends, or in sport.

When a child begins to show talent at something, especially in sport, there is a fine line between being enthusiastic and supportive, and creating a negative environment in training, matches, with other competitors and their parents.

Sometimes as a parent, it is extremely difficult not to show true emotion and hold back your personal feelings when watching your child.

With such a fine line between parents creating a positive or negative learning environment for their children in sport, it is important to understand; How much does negative behaviour affect the child’s sporting experience, and how much involvement should the parent be showing?

Research shows that children view sport as more enjoyable when they perceive their parental influence as positive, which comes as no surprise.  For children that are competing at a high standard, research has also found that important sporting characteristics (i.e. motivation, self-esteem, and group skills) are improved when the parental influence is positive.

Furthermore, in elite youth sport parents have one of the most momentous roles in assisting positive development in their child.  This is no surprise as children spend almost all of their time with their parents.  With this in mind, we must be aware of what parental characteristics are positive and negative.  Becoming over involved in the coaching process is one of the most detrimental characteristics in which a parent can have.

An example of this is disagreements with the coach, commenting from the sidelines, or even telling your child to one thing, when the coach is asking for another - creating contradiction.  This may seem a like you are helping your child, but it is actually more likely to be considered as a hindrance by the child and therefore place additional pressure on them.

To summarise, parents play an extremely important role in their child’s sporting development, but wariness must be grasped to guarantee this development is not negatively affected.  If you want the best for your child regarding the future of them in sport, then this advice is extremely beneficial.

Here are some pointers on how to be the optimum sports parent:

Try to:

  • Trust the coach. If identical information is given to the child by the parent and the coach, potential confusion will not be apparent, giving them more focus to work towards goals and visions.
  • Ask your child how they feel about you standing at the sidelines.  Take their thoughts and feelings into consideration.

Make sure you do not:

  • Become over-involved. Although this may be your way of showing you care, be cautious of the fine line between positive and negative influences.
  • Provide inappropriate coaching advice. This could be contrary to the advice which the coach has previously given. If you disagree with the coach, it is better to talk it through and have a quiet discussion with them at another time, rather than potentially coming across as disrespectful.

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