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Top tips for parents in sport

Parents in Sport Week is upon us again and always a fantastic time to reflect on the dedication of parents across the country in supporting their children to take part in sport and physical activity; a big thank you to them is perhaps the first place to start.  As an athlete who was once ferried to training and competitions and now as a coach, I fully understand that without parents’ willingness to taxi their children around I’d often have no-one to coach.

I passionately believe that parents should have the support and information they need to best support their children. And so in this blog I’ll be looking at the recommendations from Baroness Grey-Thompson’s Duty of Care Report to consider what additional support and information we need to provide parents.

Firstly, the report rightly points out that parents should be inducted alongside children and coaches as part of the inclusion into any talent pathway. Of course sports want to identify talent as soon as possible to help nurture young people, but let’s not forget that we need parents to fully understand the process too. If parents are involved in the induction to talent pathways there is a greater chance of people pulling all in the same direction and children being better safeguarded and protected.  Likewise, this full induction will help to ensure parents are better able to understand the implications of these talent pathways from the very start, and therefore better able to meet the educational needs of their children. This type of time management is crucial to balancing sport and academic commitments - I would never advocate parents put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to their children and any prospective sporting careers. The report also points out that there is an assumption that parents know a great deal about a sport’s particular system. In reality however, for many parents this will be a new experience. Understanding child and athlete development through sport is essential, but many parents may not know where to find this crucial information.

Onto a very challenging topic: Parental behaviour. For most parents this is never an issue, but of course there are a few isolated incidents; and one thing I can promise from a coach’s perspective, it will not help your child succeed or even enjoy sport.  As hard as it might be, keep a lid on your emotions and try to positively support every child. 

To conclude, I'd like to share my top tips for parents in sport:

  1. Never review the match/competition/game on the way home, especially if it was a bad day in the office in your eyes.  It’s hard when you’re so passionate about helping your children, but let the dust settle so emotion can be removed from the situation.  This approach is much more likely to result in happier children in the long term and a more pleasant drive home for everyone concerned. 
  2. Linked to tip number one – the next day, when perhaps it is a more appropriate time to review the previous day’s events, always let your child speak first. Allow them the chance to speak and reflect before you offer your opinion. This will help them open up and develop those essential reviewing skills.
  3. It’s not the Olympics or a World Final – and until that day comes, every success and failure should be seen as a learning opportunity and chance to grow stronger and wiser. Not as a pressure cooker where mistakes should be dwelt upon or even punished.
  4. Ask the right questions at your child’s club. Do they have effective coach recruitment policies, codes of conduct, undertake appropriate safeguarding checks, have disciplinary and reporting procedures in place and do they have a club welfare officer?  You want the answers to ALL of these questions to be YES. This is as essential to your child’s welfare, as to whether the facilities are safe and the coach is highly regarded! The NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit have lots of free resources available on their website to guide you.
  5. Trust the coach, especially on competition day. Even the best parents I work with forget this one. Always remember a good coach has probably told your child to focus on one thing that day, so your last minute instructions probably arn't going to help the coach, and your child implement their plan. You’ve got this far – trust the coach.
  6. Make time to be aware of athlete development research. Did you know how important strength is for success and injury prevention for children even before they go to primary school?  Did you think that cardiovascular fitness was a priority in children? If not, Sport Scotland put together a video with UK Coaching and it is well worth a watch. 
  7. Additionally have a look at the fantastic work done by experts on the topic of parents in sport. Camilla Knight from Swansea University was kind enough to record a free webinar about the positive involvement of parents in sport. Camilla is currently leading an EU funded project on parents in sport, which UK Coaching is proud to be supporting.
  8. Finally, let your child take part in as many sports and activities as possible. My colleagues keep saying I’m costing them a fortune!  But I promise it will be worth it to help your child develop a broader range of skills and prevent injury. Remember, you may want your child to play football in the Premier League or play in the Solheim Cup, but starting them off on that sport and only that sport at three years old is usually not the best route to long term success – although gymnastics and dance are largely excluded from this point as they are steeped in fundamental movement skills.
  9. Watch this short video from my colleagues in the Talent team because it really helps people to understand what talent is AND what isn’t.

At UK Coaching we have a commitment to support both parents and children in sport and physical activity. Recently, the NSPCC asked us to lead a sector wide group, looking at the topic of Safeguarding Talented and Elite Children in Sport and this work will begin in October 2017. Watch this space. 

David Turner, Development Lead Officer - Children's Lead, UK Coaching

Follow: @David_T_scUK