It can be hard for parents if their child starts to go through a period of falling out of love with their sport. All the hours and sacrifice that parents and athlete have put into the sport up to now are on the brink of being lost, wasted. And it can be extra difficult if one parent is, or used to be, involved in competitive sport, whether it’s the same sport as their child or not. It can be particularly hard on the athlete, too, if their parents were in a different sport.

Parents have age and experience and a bit of perspective in their corner. They know the ‘reality’ and demands of competitive sport and they know their child. You would think that puts them in the best place for understanding, encouraging and supporting their child athlete through the ups and downs of training and competition wouldn’t you?

It’s not like it used to be…

Often, the reality is that parents who were involved in competitive sport themselves don’t understand. Nor can they see things objectively. They were coached a couple of decades ago, likely under a much harsher regime. A ‘make or break’ mentality where only the toughest (mentally and physically) made it through.  Coaching has come a long way since then and we know much more about the mind body connection and what athletes need in terms of encouragement rather than discouragement to get a better all-round performance.

“I was trained this way and it never did me any harm”

There are still a few sports parents (and coaches) who believe in the “I was trained this way and it never did me any harm” school of coaching. The parents who stand on the side-lines or watch from the stands shouting instructions and getting way too emotionally involved in the game or the performance; conduct a post mortem on every single move their child makes; or engage in ‘comparisonitis’ – they truly believe they have all the answers. But the fact remains that they probably didn’t reach the top of their game and they are living vicariously through their children or the athletes they are coaching.

It’s no wonder then, that under this regime, young athletes can become demotivated and give up altogether as they struggle to live up to Dad’s expectations or Mum’s achievements of her youth.

Remember what it was really like, without the rose coloured specs?

If you have been in competitive sport, you will know that:

  • Not everybody ‘makes it’
  • Hard work and practice are what gets results
  • Dedication and sacrifice are an integral part of an athlete’s life.

But deep down you may also recall that:

  • Negative self-talk was your enemy
  • Praise, encouragement and positive support gave you confidence
  • With confidence you felt you could conquer the world
  • Seeing the pride on your parents’ faces made you feel like you could do anything
  • ‘Advice’ from your own parents was rarely comfortably digested

Don’t kill their passion

It is easy to say there is more to sport than winning. But for a very small number of young athletes achieving personal bests which will propel them into world class or Olympic arenas is indeed their absolute goal.  The very best thing you can do as a parent is teach them to train their minds to think and behave like a champion. Show them how to set realistic and achievable goals and work towards them, setting more and more as they reach them. Encourage them in the sport they love.  And above all, inspire their passion, don’t kill it.