How to support our kids in sports

As we are getting older we forget how it is to be a kid. We become more responsible about our choices and decisions. We continuously judge the other and ourselves on numerous serious or even insignificant matters throughout the day. As a consequence, receiving back the same behavior from individuals that compose our social network is something that we expect and demand. We are living in the adult’s world, and we believe that our kids are a part of it, but isn’t that wrong? Is it pedagogically right trying to recruit our kids to our world, or we should adjust our adult’s acts in order to become successful members in their own social network?

Our daily behavior has a direct impact on our kid’s world and social network. Even when our kids participate in social events like sports, they are always expecting our support and understanding. Sport participation is a competitive and demanding act for our kids. Enjoyment, fun and satisfaction can be easily turned over to anxiety, anger and disappointment for them. This is a crucial point where we as adults have to adjust our behavioral patterns in order to fulfill our kid’s expectations. So, the big question that arises is: how should we act as parents in order to promote our kid’s enjoinment and well being within a competitive sport environment?

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Alberta tried to identify junior tennis player’s preferences for parental behaviors at competitions. Generally the results showed that young athletes wanted their parents to support their engagement and development in tennis without pressuring them to achieve certain outcomes or performance levels. More specifically, it was discovered that junior players expected specific parental behaviors, which were grouped by the researchers under a general “umbrella” principle of being involved in a supportive way.

How to be involved in a supportive way

Do not provide technical and tactical advice

The majority of the young players reported that they didn’t like their parents to give them any tactical or technical advises before matches, because it confused them. However, there was an exception when the players perceived their parents to be knowledgeable about their sport. That is, where the parents were tennis coaches or had competed at a sufficiently high level in the particular sport.

Comment on effort and attitude, not performance

The young players preferred not to be criticized for performance-related issues after a match. However, they didn’t express a negative attitude for receiving feedback regarding their efforts, even if the feedback was critical. 

Provide practical advice

Players highlighted that they liked their parents to help them prepare for and recover after their matches. Parents should also provide practical advices (e.g. have you eaten enough? or, did you drink enough water?) but they should also try to “read” their children and not to be repetitive.

Match nonverbal behaviors with supportive comments

The young players are aware about their parents’ facial expressions and the tone of voice thus they can ‘read’ their parents emotions and attitudes. Young players explained how inconsistencies in parent’s behaviors or changing behaviors during a match might cause a shift from perceptions of support to pressure. Therefore, as parents we should work on ensuring our relaxed, yet interested appearance, and on controlling our tone of voice to be in consistence with our verbal behavior.

Respect tennis etiquette

Young player expected from their parents to respect their opponents and fans and not to get involved in a match or shout at anyone. Young players also highlighted that those parent, who were respectful to their opponents and fans helped on the creation of a positive and supportive environment for the entire tournament participant’s.

The findings of the specific study provide us with a number of behavioral suggestions in order to be involved positively in our kid’s sport environment. The most important for us, as parents is to get involved in discussions with our kids, to identify what behaviors they receive supportive when they compete and what behavior they receive pressuring and unpleasant. Overall, as parents we should always be aware, listen and “read” our kids. We should always have in mind that our behavior in relation to their participation in sport is always an action that formulate their character and promote their present and future well-being.

About Anastasios Rodis

Anastasios Rodis is an exercise physiologist at Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital in Qatar. Anastasios holds a European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology (Lund Universitet, Sweden/Leipzig, Germany). He has also completed an M.Sc in Applied exercise physiology (University of Bangor, wales, UK) and a B.Sc in Sport Sciences (University of Portsmouth, UK). Anastasios has 15 years of athletic history in track and field. He has worked as a sport psychologist with elite Swedish swimmers. He has also efficiently cooperated as an exercise physiologist with Panathinaikos football club and worked with elite athletic teams, individual athletes as well as patients with musculoskeletal injuries. His main focus is the promotion of exercise and healthy lifestyle by using and combining both physical and mental techniques.
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