Being a sport parent isn't always easy. Well, actually it's often very stressful. Yet, to ensure our kids get the most out of their participation, we need to participate in training & competitions, too; we need to be involved, in a positive way, which means we have to provide encouragement, support, and practical help. We should create an environment in which our kid can succeed, and then we can step back and let them do the actual "hard work".
Here are 5 steps you can take to better deal with competition stress as a parent and how you can support your child the best possible way:
1. YOUR CHILD'S PERFORMANCE DOESN'T REFLECT YOUR QUALITY AS A PARENT.
We all know there are many factors that influence our children's performance – many of them internal, many of them external. External factors in climbing are the route setting, the wall, the style of the routes, judges, temperatures, time schedule, components, time difference, etc. Internal factors are e.g. the athlete's physical, mental strength, and natural talent. There are many factors influencing performance – and such as Chris Sharma once said: "The reality is, we spend 99.9% of the time not succeeding...". Part of competing is learning to deal with "not succeeding" and learning from mistakes, failures, learning from positive and negative experiences. Sport is more than just "a sport" – it's more than just winning and losing: it's discovering yourself and growing from within. Sometimes such a discovery can even be: my child hates climbing.
2. DEFINE WINNING & LOSING
What's success? What's failure? Is failure the same as losing? Is winning the same as success? Can you only be successful when you are winning? Do you automatically fail when you lose?
Having reflected on these questions, you will realise that there is more to a competition than winning, there is more to being successful than always standing on the top of the podium – and vice versa. If you lose, well, the world won't stop moving. You, as a parent, are an incredibly important role model. Depending on how you define success and failure – so will your children. Particularly in youth sports. Youth sports is mainly about skill acquisition and mastery. When the children are younger, sports are mostly about having fun and enjoying themselves. When your children perform at their maximum – and still lose: will you punish them? Will you be upset?
In fact, it is critical to solely focus on their outcome, disregarding their effort. It is precarious to criticize them for their performance. Instead, support your child & make them feel like a winner when they try their very best and still lose. What if they perform really badly compared to their normal standards but still win – is this deserved? Did they put in a lot of effort? Teach your child that "being lucky" alone doesn't make them a winner. Winning and losing is all part of the game. To feel like a winner, you have to give everything you have, put in a lot of effort – also into training (even if you don't feel like it). To feel like a winner, you have to learn to deal with difficulties or failures, lost competitions – because at the end of the day, if you can get up, learn from it and try again, you will only get stronger. Remember: your attitude shapes your children's attitude!
3. BE A ROLE MODEL
If you were a youth athlete, how would you like your parents to behave? Who was your role model when you were a child/ young athlete? Why? What were they like?
Maybe you can also remember who you never wanted to be and how you never wanted to behave? Why was that?
And which person are you today? Are you a role model to your child? Do you help your child to be their best possible selves – in both a physical and mental way, by trying to be your best possible self yourself? If your child has to eat healthily for performing at their best – are you? If your child has to regularly exercise and train – are you doing sports yourself? If your child has to be mentally fit – what do you do to be mentally strong and feel confident? I'm not saying that every parent has to do as much sport as their children and always eat healthy – but be aware of the role you are playing and the influence you have! Be respectful and supportive of your child – but also of their teammates, coaches and opponents. Last but not least, you can even be a role model to other parents. We all know these loud (crazy) parents who might scream and gesticulate from the sidelines, or who would only fire on their own child. Do you want to be like them? How can you set a positive example and be a role model to them (and to your/ their children)? How can you promote sportsmanship and fairness?
4. SET GOALS
Have you ever asked your child why they do their sport and what their goal is? Remember that our goals for our child might not necessarily be aligned with their goals. Maybe they just want to have fun while we want them to become a World Cup medalist. Maybe they just want to hang out with their friend and truly don't really enjoy competing? Try to find out what your child's reasons and goals are to better understand them, and in turn, to better support them. It won't help anybody if we force someone else to do and achieve something they don't want themselves. We should particularly be considered, depending on which psychological developmental state they're in – in fact, during their childhood and youth, doing sports is mostly about hanging out with friends, having fun and then maybe... competing.
Remember that your child still gains a great deal from participating in sports (competitions), even if they don't stand on the podium every time. Maybe even especially if they don't.
5. BE SELF-AWARE
If you are stressed, your child is most likely stressed during competitions, too. I recently wrote another blog post on this topic: mirror neurons "mirror" behaviour, feelings, emotions of others. That's the reason why we cry when Jack dies in the cold waters of the Ice Sea and Rose loses the love of her life (despite the fact that more than 1.000 people are dead/ dying besides). That's the reason why we tend to laugh when someone else is laughing around us. Emotions are contagious, and we can positively – or negatively – contaminate our children by not being aware or in control of our own feelings. Self-awareness, therefore, is the first step to not negatively influence our children's emotions, and in turn, behaviour.
More strategies to come in my next blog post! Stay tuned!
And in the meanwhile, take a paper & pencil and try to reflect on these questions as well as you can. Would you consider yourself a good sport parent? What are your strengths? What can you still improve on? Do you have difficulties answering some of these questions? Why/ why not?