Do you remember how you dealt with pressure when you were still a kid or teenager? How was it and what were your experiences? How was it when this pressure was fostered by your own parents?
What can you do as coaches or parents to enhance your fosterling's behaviour?
External pressure caused by parents or coaches are normally the most frequently occurring type of pressure in childhood and adolescence. Parents who join their kids to a sport event or competition can be typically divided into three "roles": the supportive parent, the demanding coach and a crazed fan. You might have made your own experience with parents - and you might as well have already rolled your eyes over their behaviour. There are the ones who calculate points already in advance - what you need for winning the overall competition. There are the others who are more nervous than their own child. There are the ones who would scream embarrassingly loud (to the amusement - or maybe irritation (?) - to everyone else). The ones who start swearing if the kid doesn't do exactly what they are supposed to do. Well, there are (luckily) also the ones who are generally supportive and loving - also to rivals. Because at the end of the day, it's a lot about having fun at this age, enjoying doing sports together.
Certain parental behaviour at youth events can be problematic and cause pressure.
For kids, it's particularly difficult if parents or coaches put pressure on them. If you, for example, show talent for bouldering your parents might believe that you're already the next Shauna Coxsey, Miho Nonaka or Tomoa Narasaki; if you're talented in sport climbing, you are most likely to be held as the next Janja Garnbret or Adam Ondra. Accordingly, you will need to be successful in your sport - which means: more training, better coaches, better equipment. They are all temporal and financial investments which can be held against the kids when not succeeding. It's hard to escape from your direct environment. Therefore it's even worse when it's the direct human contact that causes stress and pressure. Indeed, perceived parental pressure to participate and perform well is associated with decreased enjoyment and increased anxiety.
Another critical factor is the parent-spectator behaviour or coach-spectator behaviour. Parents or coaches tend to sometimes act in ways that may be stressful for children. Did you know that more than third of the comments made are generally negative? How do you feel when you're told from the sideline what to do? What do you think when you're constantly coached while performing - does it make you feel better? Worst of all are obviously these angry yells at coaches and officials by parents during games. You might smile now as you can remember this one or other situation where you observed someone acting exactly like this - and maybe you were amused or joked with your friends about these "crazy people". But to be honest, it's not fun at all when you're actually the reason why they yell. Particularly not for children.
If young athletes are not as successful as possibly expected, another problematic factor might be critique given. Comments like "you can do better", "why do you give up that quickly" or "you should work harder" are very common. However, they cause a lot of pressure for the young athletes which can in turn lead to a loss of enjoyment.
Did you know that 8-11 year-olds prefer participation and enjoyment over winning? The interesting thing is that they are reported to believe their parents had similar notions. Young male and female athletes generally believe that their own values strongly correlate with their perception of their parents' attitudes. This means that if the kids believe that having fun and enjoying the sport is most important, they'd think that their parents perceive this the same way. How dreadful it is to become aware that this might not be the case, that your parents maybe follow different goals and values as you possibly do.
So, dear parents, coaches: support your children, enhance their self-esteem for physical activity behaviour! Foster their enjoyment and perceived competency! Youth who stronger believe in their physical competencies are way more likely to enjoy the sport and stay involved for a long period! It enhances the motivation to be physically active - and maybe there's still a chance of becoming the next Janja Garnbret, Jule Wurm or Jakob Schubert. But well, that's something you can still think about later!
You, as a significant adult, can improve your children's physical competence and self-worth, you can be this source of enjoyment and determinant of commitment to activity! So help creating such a motivational, supportive climate that makes physical activity fun and help your children develop further!
To say it with John O'Sullivan's words - whose video is definitely worth watching - tell your children: "I love watching you play".
If you have any question concerning this topic, feel free to contact me. Coach-the-Parents has become an important component of sport psychological consulting.