Mar 28

Becoming the ‘Winner’ Parent on your Child’s Sport Team

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Guidelines and Suggestions – Part 1


Parents are either super supportive or can be a real ‘pain in the butt!’ I told one father, a Veterinary, some time ago: I don’t tell you how to operate on the animals in your clinic because your are the trained professional – the same goes for my coaching, although we can address your concerns but not by ‘busting into the middle of  ‘my Operating Room’, i.e. while I am coaching on deck!


Here are some suggestions, guidelines, and strategies because NO one wins unless ‘Everyone wins.’

Your Athlete and Coach need supportive parents on the Team!


1) Athletes, Coaches and Parents form a strong relationship in the ‘Sporting Triangle’ to provide the best support (parents) possible, the best and most positive Teaching/ Coaching environment so young athletes can learn skills and excel at the sport

If parents want the child to have a successful sport experience and become a ‘winner’ (feeling good and having a healthy attitude towards sports), then the child needs parental help in a positive way! Therefore, parents are a vital and important part of the Athlete-Coach-Parent Team. If they do their job, children learn faster, perform better, and also have FUN. Subsequently, children’s self-esteem is enhanced, and the sport experience serves as a positive model for other challenges and obstacles throughout life.

If parents, however, are not supportive the child stops learning, experiences performance difficulties, and begins to dislike or even hate the sport, according to sport researchers. In addition, the parent-child relationship probably suffers significantly because children become very much aware of the parental attitude toward success, winning and loosing. They tend to immediately assess parental reaction and attitudes during and after competition, game, or match: parental smile, frown, or disappointing look, and/or body language (hand gestures)! The fact is, … ‘parenting does not get us the gold medal’ for raising the child to succeed. So, when the child ‘wins’ it’s the parent’s ‘good influence’ – if the child is not successful… it is always someone else’s fault! In many case, parents also tend to live ‘vicariously’ (felt or enjoyed through imagined participation) through the success of their child/children, especially if the parents never were successful as athletes themselves!


2) When Children stop having FUN and begin to dread practice or competition, it’s time for parents to become concerned

When sport becomes too serious, younger athletes have a tendency to burn out and become susceptible to repetitive performance problems. An easy rule of thumb: If the child is not enjoying what he/she is doing, nor loving it any longer, parents need to investigate! What is going on that’s preventing the child from having FUN? Is it the coaching? The pressure? Is it the parent? Keep in mind that being in a highly competitive program does not mean that there is no room for FUN! The child may start to react at home by ‘feeling sick,’ pretending to have or experiencing stomach or headaches when it is time to leave for practice. This is potentially a reaction for losing interest in the sport, or they may experience stress over the high expectations by parents and coaches, according to research. The scenario often results in the so-called burnout syndrome. The child that continues to play long after FUN is gone and then becomes a drop out statistic because he/she feels burdened with ‘feelings of failure’, inadequacy and low self-esteem. These feelings tend to generalize to other areas in life. Therefore, your child and the Coach need the parent on the team for full support because they cannot win without that support! Competition in youth sports is supposed to be a positive experience, both good, healthy. The involvement should teach children a variety of important life skills… AND… parents need to understand the nature and true meaning of competition.


3) “Compete” derived from Latin “cum and petere”, meaning ‘together and seeking respectively…the Philosophy of Competition

The opponent is really a ‘Partner – NOT the Enemy’, and offers the child the opportunity to ‘measure’ or evaluate him/herself against the performance of the opposition partner. The child should never be taught to view his/her opponent as the enemy or someone to be hated and ‘destroyed.’ If the partner performs well, the more chances the child has to raise his/her performance level. The ultimate goal, however, is self-improvement and achieving ‘personal best’ or goal. Yes, nobody likes to loose. However winning is the ‘end product’ of having done everything well! Vince Lombardi, one of America’ greatest football coaches, also stated, “perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Without a worthy opponent, without any challenges sport is not FUN. The more the challenge, the better the opportunity to go beyond personal limits. World records are consistently broken and new ones are set at the Olympics because the best athletes in the World are “seeking together”, challenging each other to maximize their performance.

Parents should avoid modeling or demonstrating a ‘success driven’ attitude or behavior at the pool or competition site! They should instead talk to and make friends with parents of opposing teams.  Let’s ‘root’ for great performances, not just for the winner! The ultimate goal of the sporting experience is that the child challenges him/herself, and continually seeks improvement. Judging such by winning and losing is both unfair and an inaccurate measure. Winning in sports is about doing the best one can do, separate from the outcome of others. Therefore, parents should encourage children to compete against their own potential. When the child has this focus and performs to better him/herself instead of trying to ‘beat’ someone else, he/she will be more relaxed, have more FUN, and therefore perform better. Indeed, sport is all about learning to deal with challenges and obstacles.


4) Success and Failure is NOT defined by ‘winning and losing’

One of the main purposes of youth sport experience is skill acquisition and mastery. It is absolutely detrimental to the child, from an emotional and psychological perspective, to focus on such outcome if the parent becomes the critical analyst. If the child competes at his/her very best and fails to win, the parent needs to help him/her ‘feel like a winner!’ Similarly, the child performing far below the potential BUT wins should NOT made to feel like a ‘proud winner’ because ‘deep in his/her heart’ the child really know that this was not the best effort put forward. Therefore, assist the child to make the important distinction between success, failure, winning and losing. Remember, if success and failure is defined in terms of winning and losing, one is playing the losing game with the child!

I have a personal interpretation of failure and learning. Assess mistakes or errors. Then work to correct these and show improvement the next time around. However, if the same errors are repeated over and over, then the questions arise: …Do you even care? Are you interested to improve? Is it your laziness or even acts of stupidity? And that indeed is failure!

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