I work a lot with youth athletes on sports mental training for high performance and I am often asked by parents how they can support their child to get the most out of their athletic experience. A big part of the work I do is helping to educate what kids are looking for from their parents. Below is a good starting point for gaining some knowledge on the subject. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me.

As a parent how can I help my athletic child?

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – W.B. Yeats

Learn to ignite their own self-development

While the number of studies that focus on how young athletes want their parents to behave before, during and after their sporting event, is still minimal, there are common elements starting to develop that are worth noting.  

One of the first things that parents should be concerned about regarding their children is helping them to learn what is necessary for self development and growth. Often it is necessary for people to go through a crisis or some form of discomfort to reach a new level in their endeavor. 

It is important that children understand this so that they can then learn to reframe the situation into one that works positively for them. Make sure though, that if time is needed before reframing can start, to give your child the time to mourn or vent the loss, change or hardship before moving onto reframing. 

Sometimes children will be over-excitable, meaning they can have very strong feelings and emotional reactions to events. This can lead to them being labelled as “too” emotional, touchy, imaginative, or smart for their own good. It is important not to judge the children but to take these strong emotions and feelings and use them in a positive way to help with their development. Assure them that it is okay for them to feel this way, and they can use the energy beneath the emotions and apply it to some thing that they need to do. This is a great way for them to start to understand themselves, and how to use their emotions to their advantage. 

Children need to learn to develop what is within them.  All great performers have a strong bias towards self development. As a parent you are in a unique position to help your child to develop this from an early age. Your advice or attitude should focus on helping them unlock their own potential rather than telling them how their skill development should go or look. Those that have truly succeeded have always gone against the grain, and the more people begin to understand the benefits of their unique qualities the better equipped they will be for succeeding in life. 

What I can do before and after an athletic competition

The behaviors parents exhibit can positively or negatively affect their child’s level of confidence, anxiety, feelings of competence and motivation. Depending on the gender of the children, the parent who has the most influence on their sporting experience will usually be the parent of the same sex. 

Children see their parents as able to help them enjoy and get the most out of their sporting experience when they behave in appropriate ways. This includes helping them physically and mentally get prepared prior to their competition. It means helping them with simple tasks such as taping ankles, preparing food and getting them to the venue on time. This is all children really want from their parents. 

Once the competition starts children are looking for their parents to take a back seat and support the entire team. Once the competition is done children want realistic feedback from their parents. This is important because your children need to believe in what you are saying. If the children feel they had a bad game and you say great job, they will begin to distrust your opinion and feedback. 

Obviously it is important not to put them down, but let them have time to process on their own. What did they think of the game?  Would they like any feedback from you? If they agree then give them an honest appraisal of their performance. They will appreciate this much more than a simple “good job!” They want to trust that you will tell them the truth. This way when you do say they had a good game they will be much more likely to take it in and believe it. 

For a little more information check out these articles:

http://www.active.com/health/articles/3-sports-psychology-tips-for-parents-and-coaches

https://sportpsych.unt.edu/resources/20