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Parent Power: In support of Parents in Sport Week

In support of Parents in Sport Week, I thought it would be interesting to interview a couple of parents whose daughters have come through the England Hockey talent pathway.  Even though the specifics are different, they both share some interesting and very connected reflections. Roger’s two daughters (Holly and Lauren) have come through the National Age Group programme and into the U21 squad, two years apart. Pippa shares her view of the pathway, coaches and system from a mother’s viewpoint – her daughter (Tess) transitioned out of the U18 programme and into the U21’s for this summer’s European Championships in Valencia.

I started by asking them what they might liked to have known before their daughters embarked on their respective journeys:

Pippa
It would have been helpful to have known more about the way the players are supported by the coaches in terms of not only their physical fitness but also their mental well-being.  I realised as Tess progressed through the system that she was gaining incredible support and mentoring and I realised that the whole person was being attended to through the system.  Had I known more about that beforehand I would have worried less!  I think I was slightly naïve and did not realise just how professional the whole process was and there was a process of me learning what professional coaching was all about.  That to me was quite an eye opener because I’d never had someone performing at this level before…when I played sport in the past, the level of attention to that sort of detail was not attended to at all.  On reflection it was a really positive thing and I felt really relieved to realise that when she had physical injuries there was someone constantly available to help, or when she was worrying about things she could talk to people.  It also became clear that the coaches were tuned in and were providing her with a very three dimensional service…her whole well-being was being attended to in a rather wonderful way.

Roger
We actually got into hockey through the girls… both my wife and I have sporting backgrounds but in football and netball/badminton.  Even though our girls did lots of different sports, ultimately they all went by the wayside and they came into hockey, so we didn’t know much about hockey and the process itself.  Although we’ve played lots of sport ourselves, you don’t realise player development isn’t linear until your kids go through a pathway. You might expect that players who are showing a bit of ability will always show that ability, but then you see players who fall by the wayside and it changes and you need to be aware about that.

The big thing over the last few years has been the amount of time it’s taken up.  With the girls doing so well more opportunities are thrown at them; England activity comes along and they have to start taking time out of school, are away at weekends and training more in the evenings.  This eats into their studying and they have to learn to be really, really efficient about doing that. Additionally our girls work in different ways, so as parents we have to cope with two different girls, who have different hockey abilities and are different in their approach to studying, so it’s a constant learning process for the whole family.

I then asked what key parental messages they would share with other parents about the whole experience:

Pippa
One of the key things was to give Tess the space she needs and the encouragement to actually manage herself as England Hockey expects… for example her being the primary person for communication is really important and I think sometimes parents over-manage their children.  To play at an elite level has to come from within the player, a parent shouldn’t be forcing anything into that system.  So give them the space and encouragement to actually be themselves.  Don’t be a pushy parent be a supportive parent and help create trust.  The trust that she has with the team and the coaches has to be her space and it’s not a place for parents; they need to be one step away from the action.

Secondly, would be to try and watch the matches when you can… and be there to support along the side-lines, but be invisible during the training sessions.  That’s the coaches and the team’s space. Parents should rarely get involved in any of that, they just need to be there to fetch and carry and be supportive.  It goes back to this realisation that the coaches really know what they are doing and they will make time to contact the parents when or if needed.

And finally be positive about the music played before training and camps to provide a bit of adrenaline and pump. I’ve listened to some amazing music but always very graciously, and most of it I’ve got to like quite a lot. 10 or 15 minutes before reaching Lilleshall the music would go on and there'd be a whole playlist, so by the time we arrived she was mentally in the right space, her adrenaline was running at the right level and it was great… just go with the flow!

Roger
We’ve tried to instil in the girls that they have to enjoy playing and you see so many pushy parents… we’ve tried to take a step back and say 'it’s down to you'.  We will support you and get you wherever you need to be, at the right time but it’s down to you and if you stop enjoying playing then we’ll have re-think about what we’re doing.

I’ve learnt as a parent to encourage, not to instruct and be supportive in that way.  The kids have got to learn how to play the game and deal with true scenarios.

Also you’ve got to be patient and be prepared for the ups and downs.  If there’s a dip in form don’t worry too much.  Talent will shine through, but the kids have got to ‘want it’ to succeed as they go higher up the ladder.

Finally we explored good parent-coach relationships, and the kind of information Roger and Pippa valued from coaches in supporting their daughters: 

Roger
Good, clear, honest communication
…don’t fill it up with ‘they’re doing fantastically’ when you know they’re not!  Be constructive and identify what they are not doing as well as they could be and tell them what they need to do, constructively.  Having that dialogue, especially when the girls were younger, with both the players and the parents was very useful.

Pippa
What the players learn on the pitch is actually life skills…there’s been a lot of consistency, a lot of fun and the coaches are incredibly generous and enormously insightful.  The level of timing and intuition around some of the support and mentorship has been invaluable and it meant that all the things I was saying to try and support her were also coming from people she really respected.

Others in the system helped with some of the decisions about her transition into the U21s.  She really needed someone to help her understand all the pros and cons but also to believe in herself.  Any minor wobbles in decision making were affirmed, made much easier and my job in supporting Tess was then also easier.

What struck me from the discussions with Roger and Pippa was the appearance of three common themes: The importance of good relationships; of developing trust and honesty; and the journeys of self-discovery the parents went on, learning about themselves as their children developed on their respecitve talent pathways. Interestingly these connections are also explored by Anne Pankhurst in the latest Talking Talent video, who discusses working with the parents of young performance athletes.

Andy Bradshaw, Coaching Manager: Talent & Performance, UK Coaching

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