101 ways to be a terrific sports parent…
This is the most recent book that I have just finished reading, ‘101 ways to be a terrific sports parent’ by Dr Joel Fish (it can be purchased here). It’s been very informative and is highly recommended to any parent who would like to better support their child’s journey in sports.
I referenced Dr Fish’ work in my sports degree so I bought this book ages ago, it’s only lately that I’ve finally got around to reading it though. As this book states, sport, especially over the past few decades has become a highly structured and organised activity, rather than kids just playing games. There is an argument that because ‘sport’ takes up so much of a parent’s time (and money), they in return expect much more as a result. Similarly, I read an article the other day (I can’t remember where, if/when I come across it again I’ll post the link) that said that basically, because of the widespread availability of contraception, people are now able choose when they have children. As this is a decision that has often been made by the parents, rather than something that just happens, they want the experience of being a parent to be as great/worthwhile/rewarding as it can be, rather than a more ‘free range’ parenting style of previous generations.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit from this book, and it’s given me a better appreciation of our students, in particular our elite athletes. We live in a very interesting time for sport, it takes up much more of our time and effort. There are also record numbers of children involved in sport, at all levels. The flip side of this is that there are also record numbers of children dropping out of sport, especially teenagers. Dr Fish points to research that suggests that kids are dropping out because they’re not having fun, and that kids now feel too much pressure to win. Parents are arguably the number 1 factor in a child enjoying their sporting experience or not.
Takeaways – awareness
I believe that the first chapter is the most important. It explains why parents are the most important influence in a child’s sporting journey and asks or challenges parent’s to be more aware of their own motivations and how they directly and indirectly influence their child through word or deed. Parent’s (& other coaches) should definitely read the entire book, but here are a few takeaway points that I’ve witnessed either with our own students/parents, or at competitions that I’ve helped officiate at.
‘Be a parent, not a coach’
- it’s hard for a parent not to try and solve your child’s problems, but kids need a cheerleader and support. They don’t need to hear from you that they should have used a reverse punch instead of a roundhouse kick to win. They have a coach to give them the relevant technical feedback. .
‘Give your child unconditional love, no matter what happens on the field’
- Too many kids are getting pressure rather than love. ‘Pressure to win, pressure to excel… pressure to make mom and dad proud’.
‘Remember the reasons to play sport outside of winning’
- We as coaches try to instil a ‘try to win’ and ‘want to win’ mindset into our athletes. But we try to do this in a way that isn’t focussed on winning to the detriment of everything else. It’s worth noting that in a typical Karate competition, only four athletes per category will take home a medal. The Karate competition system that we use is imperfect, even when using repêchage it doesn’t necessarily mean that the ‘best’ four are the ones who get the medals. e.g. you could have all the strong competitors in the top half of the draw, and all the weaker ones in the bottom, purely by chance. Through the rounds you would end up with two ‘weaker’ athletes taking home a silver and bronze medal.
- If parents and athletes are only focussed on winning, they could easily perform very well, but lose heart (and ultimately drop out of the sport altogether), purely through the ‘luck of the competition draw’.
- (Note: I use the term ‘best’ and ‘weaker’ here for clarity of the explanation only)
‘Beware of going overboard’ (I’ve copied this bit as-is)
…common signs that you’re overboard as a sports parent. You:
- find yourself talking more about your child’s sport than your child.
- are highly critical of your child’s coach.
- talk to your child more like a coach than a parent (i.e. always giving advice, instruction, and critiques)
- constantly tell your child to practise more.
- seem more emotionally invested in the sport than your child (i.e., you get more upset than he or she does about a lost match or performance mistakes).
- get a great deal of status and prestige from your child’s athletic accomplishments.
- believe that if your child just tried harder he or she could be successful at sports.
- aren’t hearing what you’re child is telling you.
Takeaways – competition
‘Competition is not good or bad, it’s how your child learns to handle it’
- Handling pressure situations is a life skill, and parents can help guide their children through it, using sport as the tool.
‘Avoid the competitive parenting trap’
- The Stereophonics have a lyric in a song that sums this up perfectly: ‘…if I had myself a flying giraffe
you’d have one in a box with a window’
Takeaways – performance
‘Practise doesn’t always make perfect’
- There are many reasons for not winning a particular match, on a particular day. What we’re aiming for at the club is excellence, not perfection.
‘Watch for burnout’
- Parents are better positioned to see burnout in their children than coaches. This is an important consideration for year round sports like Karate. Watch for things like over training, not having as much fun as they once did, expects too much from themselves, feels under pressure.
- Consider having a ‘season’ off, whether the child wants it or not. e.g. you might decide that your child will not compete in Winter (Dec-Feb: this is something that most club athletes do anyway).
Takeaways – coaching concerns
‘Your goal is to have a positive relationship with a coach’
- Treat your child’s coach with the same courtesy and respect you would their teacher (Karate thankfully isn’t as bad as some sports where you see parents having shouting matches at coaches)
- Be careful about how you talk about the club/coach/officials/other athletes/other clubs, especially when around your child. Always be respectful or you could undermine your child’s desire to take part in sport altogether, or even undermine their faith in their coach or the match officials. It doesn’t help any one. If you need to vent, do it in private.
- Advocate for your child, but set limits. Try to teach your child to talk to the coach directly. Parent’s shouldn’t be calling the coach after every session/competition for a ‘debrief’.
- Teach your children how to resolve conflict themselves, rather than getting involved when they fall out with team mates.
- Help teach your child how to deal with the perfectly natural feelings of jealously. We weren’t all born with the same athletic talents, the same intellect or the same good looks (..or whatever), in Karate it’s worth remembering that two children who may start training at the same time, are very unlikely to grade at the same rate throughout their Karate journey, and in the grand scheme of things, the belt colour, or how many shiny medals someone has is completely unimportant. Parents have a role to play in helping children overcome these feelings and ensuring it doesn’t harm their own personal development.
Takeaways – Injury
This is one section in particular that parents should read carefully. We’ve seen instances where athletes have used ‘injury’ to opt out of events. Adults do it all the time, ‘I can’t go to the gym today because I’ve erm… hurt my leg’. Usually there is something underlying, parents can help their children cope with the pressure of competition and dealing with any fear they may have of entering specific events, or coming up against certain opponents.
It’s important to seek medical advice when appropriate and to avoid any training that will aggravate any injury. No competition or grading is ever worth becoming seriously hurt.
There are some interesting chapters covering family issues, sibling rivalry, self esteem and quitting sport that I haven’t even touched on. I could go on writing to try and do these sections justice but I’d probably be breaching copy-write rules. This is a useful resource for parents to help guide their children so again, I urge you to read the full book.
The book I’m now reading is Positive Pushing (Taylor, 2002).