Parents in sport. Are they a blessing or a hindrance? The reality is, most parents are peaceable mums and dads who just mimic the way society expresses sport. The problem is some of our national sporting character is missing the target. If we understand the link between parents and sport more, we are more able to harness the power of mum and dad to help our young athletes enjoy and flourish in sport.
A sports coach may want to help a young person develop sporting character, but it is the influence of the parent who shapes a young person most. If sports teams wish to pursue glory, parents are one of their best assets.
Sport is escape.
Sport has long been used as an escape from the realities of the day-to-day. Roman emperors used gladiatorial games to distract their subjects from the realities of life and sport's function in society was set - escapism. This is why it can be so hard for coaches and sports clubs to engage parents to reflect on their part in their child's sporting participation. They are not there to think about their touchline behaviour, to consider how their character is shaping their child's character and behaviour on and off the pitch. They are there to escape into the reality-altering state known as 'watching my kid play sport'.
Sport is an escape, but a child's voice can bring you back to earth with a bump. Sports clubs use the voices of children. Ask the children to write down how they want the adults to behave at sports events. Ask them what they find unhelpful and what helps them play better. You will find that for many parents hearing their little darlings' voices on this topic will help them be present and not let their mind and actions escape.
Sport is passion.
Let's be honest, in our reserved British culture, nothing is better at creating an outward expression of passion than sport. Taking our fathers to the rowing finals at London 2012 was an eye-opener! It meant that I saw more passion and emotion from those two wonderful men as team GB won several golds than I had in my combined knowledge of them! We should not be surprised when parents struggle to express their feelings in constructive ways while watching their children.
We could ask for silent sidelines, but rather than help them bottle up normal feelings. After all, the 'British' way of dealing with emotions has never had good outcomes. Teach parents to channel their emotions into positive expressions of praise. At a rugby match we used some 'clickers', you know the ones bouncers use, to count the number of times we praised our children. Any negative comments, back to zero, with the highest number of clicks winning some beer! (You can see a video of this here.) Honestly, it was the most fun we'd had on the touchline for a long time. Passion was used to create a positive and fun atmosphere.
Sport is dreams.
The biggest criticism of parents in sport is that some of the worst behaviours of parents are motivated by their desire that their children achieve the level of sporting success which they didn't. At its darkest this means pushy parents making their children train hard and continue competing long after the child wanted to stop participating.
Parents are dreamers, why would you want to stop that? Too right I want my children to be better than me at sport. All Blacks legend Richie McCaw's uncle dreamt big for him and everyone applauded it. Your average parent has dreams for his or her child and it receives the negative wagging finger! I would argue that parents who don't dream big are failing their child. The challenge is that the parent's passionate dream for their offspring does not wound, but flourish their child.
Ask parents this question. As you attend your child's 40th birthday party, you mingle with their friends, colleagues, former teammates, their children and partner. What words do you want to hear being used to describe your child?
No-one ever says 'world cup winner', or 'is a billionaire'. The words used are always linked to their character, such as kind, hardworking, fun, considerate. These words are the deepest dreams of their parents. Invite them to make those character traits the focus of their dreams and help them learn how to praise these character traits.
The challenge for the sports clubs working with parents is not an easy one to navigate. The best way to engage parents is to stop making them feel guilty for what are normal emotions and feelings. Instead, have someone at the club who helps coach the parents to make the best of these feelings and emotions, ensuring that your club is just a great place for all the passionate and committed parents and children.
Richard Shorter is parenting coach who helps parents to be courageously honest in their parenting.
The original of this blog can be found here.
If you would like Richard to come a run an inspiring evening for parents at your club please contact him here.