We often talk in our workshops about how parents still hold the biggest influence over their children and their behaviours despite the huge impacts that can also be made by teachers, coaches and relatives. We also know that the biggest achievements made by young children are when coach/parent or teacher/coach are working together to deliver the same consistent messages and behaviours.
If this is the case, the responsibility we have as parents around our children’s sport is huge as our children will be watching and listening to us.
All of the behaviours that we exhibit, what we value, what we say and how we deal with situations will be taken at face value by our children and likely repeated.
How many times in sport have we heard statements come from a child’s mouth and we think, ‘you can’t have come up with that, who has put those words into your mouth?’
Children inherently take their cues from parents. We help them develop how they should feel about the world and others, the manner in which they interact, and the beliefs they carry. We shape their system of thought and action with our own.
We can’t help it. We get comfortable with them always being around us and slip into adult conversations within earshot. We assume they tune us out when they have their devices surgically attached to their eyeballs. We figure the music or TV has created a barrier of white noise allowing us to speak freely.
Here are just some examples from a sporting context where some of our behaviours and actions may have a far more negative impact than we would like them to:
Talking about other players, parents and the coach in earshot of your children
Little people have big ears and will often repeat what you have said at the wrong time and inadvertently we have potentially damaged our child’s relationship with their teammates and their coach. This can lead to your child potentially not passing to teammates and criticising them heavily when they make mistakes.
Talking about ‘winning’ all of the time
Your child may lose their joy of sport if you see this as the only success criteria. The process is more important than the outcome and you potentially rob your child of taking joy in the many things that they achieve during the sporting experience if you focus too heavily on the winning.
This is potentially damaging to your child’s mindset and their attitude towards others.
Shouting at officials
Our children will take the lead from us. If we are shouting at officials, you can guarantee that they will then start criticising and questioning decisions made by them. Surely, in the cold light of day we can recognise that there is no real place for this in children’s sport.
Turning a match into a ‘Big Match’
Many of us can often take on a tribal approach when it comes to playing local opposition and teams that we may not like, and we pass this influence on to our children. To a child, without our input it is merely another game.
I do have to say, I personally have seen a couple of instances where this has led to the poorest performances from my own child’s team when the parents have made it something bigger than it actually was.
These are just a few examples and the biggest problem for us sometimes as parents is, we just get so competitive, we can’t help but pick on other things.
We want to feel better about our own child’s shortcomings, and there’s no better way than pointing out the failings of other people (officials, other players, coaches and parents).
It is our defence mechanism. We want to see our children succeed. We cannot fathom them being the weak one or being flawed.
We justify their development by looking for the flaws in others. When we see other’s shortcomings, we feel better knowing our child isn’t the only one. “Misery loves company”.
However, the next time you think of having one of those inevitable chats with your partner or another parent, try to make sure that your child is not in earshot. You are their major role model and everything you do will be taken at face value by them.
Think about what you want your child to see and hear, how you want them to behave and how you want them to perceive the world.
Remember they will be watching and listening to you for their cue!
• 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.