When I was younger, or really throughout my whole athletic career both of my parents were very supportive. My dad was an athlete himself and is competitive to this today. My brother and I used to dread the car ride home from games. Mainly because our dad told us about the way we played, both good and bad. At some point, of course we wanted to hear the negatives and positives of our play because it would benefit us, but not right after it happened. Not in the car on the way home. We needed time to individually analyze what happened. Time to boil down if we thought we did poorly, or time to calm down if we were excited about our performance. Either way, we wanted, we needed that time to ourselves.
In addition to my personal experience as an athlete, a question I get regularly from parents is, “What can I do for my athlete?” Basically, they want to know how to build their parent-athlete relationship and be a better sports parent. Here are my top six strategies, or recommendations for sport parents everywhere.
6 Ways to Create a More Supportive Parent-Athlete Relationship
1. Don’t coach at games: In working to build a supportive relationship with your young athlete, be sure to avoid coaching at games. This is one thing that really bothers athletes of all ages. Athletes on a team have a designated coach in which they look to for direction, advice, and guidance throughout a game. Even though you may be knowledgeable of the sport, it gets confusing and stressful for an athlete when they are trying to execute the coach’s focus, along with their parent’s. Success is largely just a matter of consistency. Allow their direction during games to be consistent.
2. No car-ride rule: Like me, many kids dread the car ride home from practice and games, especially games. Numerous parents choose that time directly after performance to talk about the game, and usually the negatives are reviewed first. Athletes need that time to reflect individually on their performance and deal with the good and the bad. Most athletes, really at any level think about how they did following a game. This consideration helps build a sense of ownership, personalization, and desire for their sport. As a parent, don’t interfere with this process, unless your athlete ASKS your opinion on the way home from a game.
3. 24-hr rule: Similar to the no car-ride rule, refrain from bringing up performance in a game for at least 24 hours following. Twenty-four hours is an adequate amount of individual reflection time after a game. By this time, the athlete has reviewed their performance, things that went well and things that didn’t go so well, and are ready to talk about their play with a clear head. Talking about your athlete’s play right after their game is like arguing when you’re angry, for both parties. Just like an argument, people can be wrapped up emotionally in what just took place, so they react in the moment rather than responding to the situation. Even if an athlete did exceptionally well, that intensity and hype carries over into the conversation following. Again, let your athlete gain some balance after their performance before openly evaluating it, unless they COME TO YOU.
4. 5:1: Dr. Gottman examined relationships and found the difference in being happy and unhappy with someone is the magic ratio of 5:1. People who are happy together give 5 positive interactions in accordance to 1 negative interaction. When talking with your athlete about their performance, give them 5 things that went well before providing them with a critique. For each criticism you give, ensure that 5 positive things are also said. If you may struggle with this, place 5 dimes and 1 quarter in one of your pockets. As you say something positive, move a dime to your other pocket. When you are out of dimes then use your quarter, give them a critique.
5. Always winning: As humans, we have an innate competitive nature. We always want to win. There’s one phrase you can continually say to your athlete after watching them play, and always win with them. Simply say that you “enjoyed watching them play today.” If anything, it’s the truth and it will make you both feel good regardless of their performance outcomes.
6. Smile: Many young athletes look to their parents in the stands either for direction or support during a game. Since you hopefully won’t be trying to coach them from the bleachers, offer a smile of encouragement. Smiling is a simple act, it takes very little effort. Yet, it can positively influence your athlete. If they see you smile they will likely smile in reciprocation. Smiling produces endorphins, it literally makes you feel good. When athletes feel good, they play good. Their body is relaxed and they are able to execute moves more easily than if they were tense. Smile at your athlete; it’ll make you both feel good and they’ll know your support.
Make sure the car ride home isn’t what your athletes remember about playing a sport. You can be a better sport parent; do it for your athlete!