Hey Parents! Sit Down, Relax & Get Out Your Pom Poms!
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology looked at the preferred parental behaviors in team sports from the perspective of youth female athletes. Being a parent myself of 3 young athletes I understand how easy it is to get emotional about what’s happening out there on the sports field while watching my “mini me.” I have felt the disappointment (“The goal was WIDE OPEN!”), bewilderment (“Why did she do THAT??”) and of course the joy of success (“That’s MY girl!!”). But both as a parent and a Mental Skills Coach I want to be in the best position to help my kids enjoy their experience, play their best and foster a long-term love of sport and fitness. In my 13 years as a Mental Skills Coach I have found that almost all parents that I come across want the same for their kids. So what should we be doing? This study asked the kids what they thought and here is what they had to say…
“Do’s” on the sidelines:
- Encourage the entire team, not just your child.
- Focus on effort rather than outcome
- Interact positively with athletes throughout the game.
- Maintain control of your emotions
These behaviors helped kids feel like the whole team was valued, it minimized pressure to perform and kept them from feeling embarrassed. Overall these behaviors translated to a more positive experience, a more resilient mindset, more consistent performance and better parent-child relationships.
The kids in the study were also interviewed about what behaviors they don’t like. These behaviors promoted negative feelings in the kids such as frustration, confusion and embarrassment. Experience working with hundreds of athletes has taught me that once these behaviors start, there is a mental battle that begins. Meaning that the athletes attention is now partially focused on the parent (“Leave me alone! I’m trying to play!”) and partially on the game. Once this battle ensues, performance suffers. Take note…
“Don’t” on the sidelines:
- Draw attention to yourself or your child
- Argue with officials
Any parent who has spent time on the sidelines knows this behavior runs rampant. But the truth is most parents are well intentioned…they really are trying to help! They simply don’t realize that this behavior is actually having the opposite effect. One caveat noted in the study stated that coaching from a parent who is an expert in the sport was acceptable either before or after the game, but not during. During the game, the same rules apply.
So now you know. It’s imperative to remember that while we do pay, drive, bring snacks, go back home and pick up water and give up our weekends to support our young athletes, we do all of that in support of THIER experience.
Are you curious about what your athlete has to say about this study? I encourage you to sit down and ask them what their preferences are. How do they want you to behave during their competitions? Your job is simply to listen and take appropriate action…which is likely to mean sit down, relax and get out your pom poms!
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23: 76-92, 2011
Erika Carlson, M.A., CC-AASP
Mental Skills Coach
Excellence in Sport Performance
Erika is a Mental Skills Coach based in the San Francisco Bay area who specializes in improving mental performance for elite youth female athletes. For more information on Erika and her consulting firm please visit www.ErikaCarlsonSports.com