By Dr Sam Thrower

Within the last 10 years a growing number of studies have illustrated the increasingly difficult and challenging nature of being a sport parent, particularly within individual sports. Specifically, research has highlighted the wide range of organisational, developmental, and competition stressors parents experience at different stages of their children’s development. 

Despite this, unlike coaches the majority of sport parents still receive little or no education and support about how to facilitate their child’s sport participation and development.

In 2015, Professor Chris Harwood and I at Loughborough University set out to develop the first evidence-based psychosocial sport parent education programme. Our starting point was to explore the education and support needs of sport parents at different stages of their child’s development. 

A six-month period of fieldwork and interviews with 29 players, parents, and coaches, revealed that parents wanted education and support in relation to a wide range of topics. These topics included: Supporting young athletes, navigating governing body organizational systems, child development, talent development and how to communicate with children before during and after matches*.

Based on the findings of this study, we worked closely with the Youth Sport Trust to develop their ‘Performance Parent Programme’, which was launched at the end of 2016. The Performance Parent Programme consists of an hour-long workshop (click here to sign up) and an accompanying e-learning resource. 

The e-learning resource includes a range of self-directed modules on topics such as ‘Understanding your child as an athlete’, ‘Your role in the athlete support team’, ‘The true value of sport to your child’, ‘Talent development – the role of the parent’, ‘Balancing education and sport’ and ‘Competition parenting’ (available from here).

Drawing upon the module content we have provided 10 evidence-based top tips for parents of young athletes competing in the 2018 School Sport Games:

  • Provide your child with choice and increasingly involve them in decision making both within and outside of sport.

  • Facilitate independence by encouraging your child to take responsibility for their preparation (i.e., travel arrangements, competition/training schedule, nutrition, equipment).

  • Review your child’s sport environment (e.g., training groups and competition schedule) to ensure it is conducive for maintaining their long-term motivation (i.e., feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness).

  • Emphasize individual progress and effort not outcomes or social comparisons

  • Encourage children to problem solve through reflection (i.e., what did you do well and why? what could you improve upon? what will you do differently next time?) after competitions (once the emotions have gone!).

  • Role model composed responses during matches or competitions (i.e., try to underreact to the high and lows of competition) and ensure your body language is consistent with the values you want to project (e.g., clapping hard work).

  • Surround yourself with support. The extent to which you are able to support your child is dependent upon the support you yourself receive from significant others (e.g., coaches, other parents, support staff)

  • Use sport as a vehicle to develop desirable morals (i.e., sportspersonship), core values (i.e., hard work) and life skills (e.g., conflict resolution).

  • Ensure your child is provided with opportunities to develop in domains other than sport (e.g., education, music, social settings) so they don’t develop a narrow athletic identity.

  • Ensure you get to know your child’s coach and establish clear roles within an effective working relationship. 

With the 2018 School Games National Finals fast approaching, don't forget to book your tickets!