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Performance Parents: How to Navigate Competition Support

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

As parents of a young athlete, you are in an incredible position to impact the sport development of your child. Competitive sport is psychologically demanding, but the ways in which you interact with your child can help them to develop the skills to cope effectively. Young athletes need to be able to think independently, take responsibility, adapt, manage their emotions and overcome challenges. So how can we support our young athletes’ success?

Before a competition

  • Keep messages short and simple. When we’re nervous about a competition we can only process a small amount of information. Don’t overdo it with long or detailed instructions or you risk confusing or distracting your athlete.

  • Manage your own emotions. If you’re feeling nervous or worried, try not to show it. In an interview with Working With Parents In Sport, Judy Murray said: “What we have to realise as parents, is that our kids pick up on everything from us. So I actually learned, over the years, to become almost straight-faced, and hide feelings slightly.”

  • Keep the journey there as normal as possible. Chat about other stuff or listen to music. Keep the mood light and upbeat. Show that you’re excited and positive.

  • Remind them that you love them no matter what. Be proud of them for who they are, not what they achieve in the sporting arena.

During a competition

  • It’s very possible that your young athlete will look at you during competitions, for support, reassurance or praise. Keep cool, calm and collected. Try not to let over-reactions (either positive or negative) spill out.

  • Think about your body language and the message you are communicating. Find a neutral and relaxed watching position. Be conscious of pointing, frowning or pacing up and down.

  • Give positive signs of encouragement, such as a clap, nod or smile.

After a competition

  • Let your child lead the conversation. If they’re not ready to talk, don’t force it. If they are ready, use open questions and encourage them to express themselves.

  • Encourage them to reflect and problem-solve, asking questions like; “what did you do well?”, “what would you do differently next time?”. Help them to identify areas to work on in training.

  • Avoid the trap of being blinded by competition results and focus on the process of improvement. Praise qualities such as positivity in the face of a challenge, hard work, determination, effort, and trying a new skill or strategy.

We want young-athletes to enjoy the challenge of competing and to understand that being the best and winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s actually about being a little bit better than you were, learning and improving yourself so that you can be the best that you can be.

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