In your experience, what is the most repeated mistake parents make with their young competitors?
It’s all about winning. If you don’t win it’s the end of the world causing too much emotion and analysing. It takes the fun out of it for the kids. Everything becomes about NOW too much. They can’t appreciate the process and journey and all the different phases that kids go through. Some children don’t mature till later on and that’s physically and in maturity. If the coach is any good they will be taking the child through a longer path to improvement, keeping it light and taking winning and losing as part of that path. So parents need to reinforce this yet many don’t they get caught up in the rankings now and trophies.
All the juniors I have seen playing who win generally win because they’re just good! Later on, in the upper age group, things can change with more effort and training but when they’re little they just need to be left to play. If they’re going to win then they’re going to win not because the parent forces it or comes up with master plans etc
Another problem I see is that many parents can only talk about their own child. “My Sarah this, My Sarah that….” The conversations aren’t normal; it always ends up back on their child. The funny thing is that they don’t know they are doing it. This kind of obsession is too much and I’ve rarely seen any good come from it. The child dominates the mind of the parent so much that they can’t see the good in others and how it’s not all about them.
What are some of the worst examples of sports parenting you’ve noticed?
I’ve seen a few cases of Mental Abuse which was horrific. Negative comments, personal blame, public telling offs, drunken outbursts. Blaming the other parent for the child’s failings such as “you’re just like your stupid mother, no wonder she left us”.
An ongoing lack of fun and enjoyment. Always serious and analysing as if we are all at work. It is a slow erosion of the child’s ability to have fun with the sport, it’s terrible really.
Seeing their child as an asset has been common to see at times. They get a big kickback of success or possible success that goes beyond normal pride of your children. It becomes about THEIR status within the community and not the child’s.
Have you noticed any damaging long term effects on players and family?
I think if winning is over celebrated in the Junior game then it can lead to the youngsters being given too much status, too early. I suppose it’s the “big fish in a little pond” scenario. When they arrive in the senior game it can be quite a sharp drop in status because it is so much more difficult to win. In fact, this is possibly where most people get it wrong. In most sports the successful transition from high performing junior to senior is remarkably difficult, only very few do it quickly and smoothly. You get this drop in STATUS for the player and their family and coach.
Suddenly they aren’t winning as much, blame starts to creep in and pressure keeps building. If you’re not careful during this critical phase, players can give up purely because of the feelings of Inadequacy and drop in ego. This is where the best parents stand by the longer process and douse the flames of panic and blame. These are the times where you really can tell how the youngster has been raised and if they’ve been spoilt or controlled too much. They need to have an understanding that things take hard work and life is a journey full of ups and downs and it’s hard to get this as a young player if you’ve always had mummy and daddy bailing you out from a young age.
Have you been able to challenge parental behaviour that you understand to be limiting, or worse damaging? If so, how have you approached it?
Yes at times if I see things going really bad or if parents have asked me what I think. I have told them through casual conversations, stories, past examples sometimes. I don’t think you can ever do it like you are telling them off, it is a hard job after all. Sometimes I have found that all is needed is a little prompt or idea helping them to see it a different way and that can help.
Do you think it is part of a coach’s responsibility or duty to coach parents as part of the process of junior development?
No, I don’t see it that way. The parent needs to bring with them a level of awareness to begin with not to be too involved and pushy. They need to know the actual effects they have on their children before a coach can contribute a few ideas. If they have, you can casually talk to them on a LOGICAL level, not an EMOTIONAL one. This all links into the background I mentioned earlier. if the parents themselves have had a good background and are quite secure in themselves and wise, they are much easier to have logical conversations with.
You worked with your own daughter for many years as a junior and professional performer. What was difficult about this? What did this experience teach you?
The only difficult thing was watching her compete. When she competed I was emotionally too high and couldn’t enjoy the match. I would be a bit nervous within myself, it was a strange feeling. It taught me that I had to calm down or not watch her play because it became off-putting for her. It also taught me when I sat with you Danny once! You were watching Laura and I was sat next to you helping and listening to you and all your fidgeting and stress I thought “wow, is that what I am like when I watch Jenny, my daughter?”
DM – I remember that well yes. It was a big learning moment for me too, hearing you admit that. It made me see that I was too involved and needed to back off a bit.
That is what is good about working with other people I suppose. Parents could learn lots from each other by sharing experiences and helping each other.
Did it give you empathy for other parents? Did it change your coaching approach with other parents at all?
Oh yes, it did! I was able to realise the type of things parents felt. It explained a lot of what I had seen as their weird behaviour! I immediately adopted more empathy and was less harsh on them in my own mind which probably came across much better. I would also tell the children to be nice to their parents a bit more because I had been on the other side and knew that a kind word of appreciation made a huge difference in settling me down as a father.
What have the best parents been generally good at when working with you?
The ones, who turn up, drop off their children and leave the coach to the coaching. Then when invited in by either the coach or the player can show a genuine interest and can listen without forcing their opinions. Generally, the best parents are quite simple and uncomplicated people. They introduce their kids to the sport, enjoy watching them play and learn, introduce them to good coaches and help out if asked.
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