Our body language can have as big an impact on our children as much as what we may say to them. As much as 80% of communication can come from non-verbal cues and include things like gestures, posture, facial expressions, tone of voice and eye contact. Touch can also be included in ‘body language’ and includes things like a pat on the back or a fist bump.
Sporting environments are unfortunately rife for poor body language to thrive and perhaps relay messages to our children without us even realising the negative impact that we may be having on them.
On the side-lines many parents are now aware of the issues caused by shouting at officials and members of the opposition, whilst many are becoming more aware of the negative impact caused by the yelling of multiple instructions or ‘joystick’ coaching towards their own child or team mates.
However, research suggests that during competition children are more likely to recognise poor body language than any form of verbal communication.
Children are far from stupid and are so adept at picking up on our body language, our children will be watching us, and we need to be prepared for it.
On the side of the pitch when our children may perhaps glance in our direction during a game, they need to see us being positive, encouraging and showing that we are in it with them.
Unfortunately, on occasions it is all too easy for us to look down at the ground, put our hands on our head, roll our eyes or perhaps turn away when they perhaps make a mistake, fail to take a chance to score or their team concede and are starting to lose the game.
The impact on our children can be far more negative with them perhaps thinking, “oh no I have blown it again” or perhaps even worse than that, “my parents are going to be so disappointed with me”.
The reality is that we are probably disappointed for them but that is not how our body language may be being interpreted by them.
When things start to go wrong, the temptation is to become more involved, and feeling under pressure ourselves, our behaviours can often change.
We often recommend to parents both through this article and during our workshops that we need to have some coping strategies in place or have at least thought about certain scenarios before they unfold in front of us.
So, what can we all do to improve our body language around our children’s sporting experience?
• With our gestures we can focus on clapping and cheering all members of the team whilst been conscious of finger pointing or holding our head in our hands.
• With our facial expressions the more we can display a positive and happy facial expression the better whilst being conscious of frowning and displaying looks of worry, anger and disgust.
• A good relaxed posture will also convey positive energy to our young children whilst avoiding crossed arms and pacing up and down the side-lines.
In the car on the way home we often recommend to parents that they let their child lead the conversation, however, if you struggle with that as a parent and many do, then ask questions to your child that allows them to reflect on their sporting experience.
There is nothing wrong though if things have gone wrong to simply be there for them with a hug and a touch on the shoulder which can have an even bigger impact.
There is nothing wrong with silence and our body language here is the most effective form of communication, far more important than some of the things we may say verbally.
What our children need from us through all of this is a support that is as consistent as possible through all the highs and lows via both our verbal and non-verbal communication.
We hope that this has given some food for thought in an area that can often be overlooked.
Gordon MacLelland is the CEO and founder of Working with Parents in Sport, which supports parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. To find out more about their work please visit www.parentsinsport.co.uk.