Monday 16 October 2017

OT - Sports Parents

So I'm back to blogging after a longer than intended absence, with a bit of a different post topic this time, inspired by @InkingFeeling , @DrSamThrower , @everyballtennis and Jack Rolfe

So I’m a parent, and very happy about being a parent. We’ve two wonderful children - well not always perfect, despite looking through a parent’s rose tinted glassses - one girl and one boy, rapidly approaching teenagers.

We’re lucky that they’re both fit and healthy and enjoy a wide variety of interests and passions. Our daughter, who was born with hip displacia, is sports fixated - tennis, hockey and running are her main sports; but she’s also a talented swimmer and footballer. Our son, a couple of years younger, is a talented tennis player and hockey player; he enjoys swimming, cricket and is a strong chess player. Essentially they’re like many teenage kids.

Between them they are in three county teams and compete in numerous local, regional and national events both through school, clubs and national associations.

We’re fortunate to be in a position to support our children in their sporting desires; to be able to provide them with the time, taxi services, club membership, fund coaching, masterclass sessions, attending adult national & international matches and supplying relevant kit & equipment - and yes that means over 14 pairs of sports shoes and 10 equipment bags in concurrent usage at anyone time! Coupled with a wish that actually I owned a sports shop instead of just feeling that we’ve purchased one.

Now as parents we’re both competitive, and we really do try and not be pushy parents - but I know I fail every now and then; where the line is crossed between being enabling & supportive and living my dreams vicariously through our children.

Over the last year I’ve been giving more thought and time to this; both in open discussion with our children with what they want from us, taking volunteer roles supporting some of their clubs and competitions (a personally wonderfully educational and rewarding opportunity, even if some other parents can take volunteers for granted), and in progressing my own education qualifications.

So what are my observations over the last few years:
* Many parents read & digest very little of the information provided to them, and certainly don’t go looking for the high quality information many of the associations provide freely online
* That said, GB associations and authorities could do a lot better job at harmonisation and sharing both information and accreditation - when simple things like DBS checks and SafeGuarding courses have to be taken specific to each sports association it just makes things overly complex. Different associations have differing great sets of information, if combined where appropriate this could really make things much easier and better.
* Scheduling and attending the various required / available courses varies greatly between sports association - tennis being well run and structured with clear booking system and availability, sadly hockey less so and with scarce coaching courses
* That there certainly aren’t magic “club pixies” that make sports clubs work - its about passionate people (professionals & volunteers) that work tirelessly hard for the benefit of other people. If you see one this week just say thanks, it’ll make their day.
* Parents that can be very vocal about their perceived issues with clubs, are sadly all too often very quiet when asked if they’re prepared to get involved to assist.
* That parents need to relax and let the professionally qualified coaches do their jobs - a good coach will have seen lots of different children, and be able to see each’s potential and identify their differing motivators. They see things objectively and maybe very differently to yourself, and without the emotional subjective overlay; and they are the ones having done all the qualifications often having gone through it themselves as well.
* That the connection between the child and the coach is absolutely key - we’ve been very lucky to have superb school sports directors, coupled with internationally recognised sports club coaches. The key is the coach adapting their technique & style to each child, to dynamically mixing between mentor, peer, banter partner, disciplinarian, inspiration, grounder, counsellor, sparring partner etc. But absolutely to have a trusted connection with the child.
* That conduct on & off the pitch is the child’s responsibility and parent’s accountability, it is not the job of the coach or club to teach them manners and good conduct - that’s the job of a parent. The parent, club & coach need to have a strong sportsmanship culture and ethos - the child need’s to have clear understanding of accepted and required conduct.
* That sports clubs aren’t crèche childcare, despite how many parents try and use them as such
* That out of any given group of children in a sports sessions the reason for them being there typically breaks into three groups - 33% parents made them, 33% social with friends, 33% passion for the sport. This isn’t bad but understanding it and where each child fits is key to their motivators and activators. Of course which group a child is in may vary over time as well.
* That associations need to take a more child & junior friendly approach to their adult sport, I recall vividly a tennis tournament recently where on a Saturday lunchtime there were two adult football matches being played alongside the four tennis courts. Now I’m no prude, but the language used & shouted by the football players and coaches was enough to catch my attention & concerns, let alone those of the 8-14 year old juniors playing on the tennis courts. If a sport’s culture is one of swearing then frankly I question why it should get any form of national funding or support - it’s down to the sport association & match officials to sort this - something that sadly the bloated/male/stale/pale Football Association really haven’t any form of track record on :(
* It’s really difficult to find the right line between supporting, enabling & encouraging versus pushing people (child and/or coaches) into places they don’t want to, or shouldn’t, be. In this area the LTA and DR Sam Thrower need to be congratulated here with their new “Optimal Competition Parenting” course, I was on the first course earlier this year and it really was useful, putting simple but often overlooked concepts into clear junior sports context and really driving home the “process outcome” focus. If you get chance please attend this course!
* It’s continually surprising and disappointing as to how many tournaments or matches get cancelled through lack of attendees. Judy Murray is pushing this topic heavily in Tennis, as it’s a real issue with junior players over-subscribing then cancelling coupled with a clear set of disincentives to players (minimal rewards for beating lower ranked players, material negatives to losing against players)
* That pushy parents really do consume more club / coaching resources, and this is normally to the detriment of the children. Clubs need to take strong positions here to avoid becoming distracted by the few (for good or bad) to the detriment of the many.
* Well intended, but ill informed, words or actions really can have quite a detrimental effect on the behaviour and mood of a child
* That parents really need to read, understand and follow the parent charters for the respective sports
         LTA Parent Pledge
         EH Parent & Spectator Charter

* People do indeed have different levels of natural talent and physical ability, but without commitment and hard work these talents result in little of any real meaning. The often quoted phrase “The harder you practice, the luckier you get“ really is true! Easy initial success is only sustained by intense hard work coupled with listening and learning with and from others.
* It may be obvious, but it’s often overlooked, that sport needs constant practice and an open mind to new things, skills, and techniques. When the world #1 is still training and learning on a daily basis then clearly the same applies to anybody!
* That the conversation and meaningful dialogue with the child is the single most important thing, it is vital that the child is fully engaged and that the goals and objectives are theirs not anybody elses. Simple things are asking them what support they want from you as a parent during any sports, whereabouts they might want the parent to be during the match (does them seeing you add or reduce pressure?), what their goals are for the event, post the event what went well/what needs more development etc?  Ask the child not tell them, use open probing questions, but choose the timing carefully - Dr Sam Thrower has some great advice on the conversation approach & timing in his LTA material.
* That process & commitment are the focus items; progress, improvement and results will come as  a natural consequence and are not to be obsessed over. Discuss approach and goals that are process orientated rather than the event result, discuss the application of things they've been practising.
* This is a tough one, but sadly cheating is still prevalent, and even worse, that gamesmanship is obviously coached in some areas - the best advise I can give is to engage & respect the officials (whatever the outcome) and then breath out, stand tall and move on from it. Cleanse the mind of the incident as soon as possible and move on - rest assured the real person they're cheating is themselves.
* That watching & meeting national and international players has a massive inspiration and motivation affect on children - I have to congratulate GB hockey on this, having the players available after matches to chat with the kids is superb, having the players attend local clubs through things like HockeyFest is brilliant, participating in the many school holiday masterclass academies really drives the children. That the best players in the world are so approachable and accessible really is fantastic.
* That having a ”Parent’s forum” as part of the association can really help  connect the elite side of the sport to the club side of the sport - LTA have made initial steps on this through Parent Advisory Group but they need to drive this harder, and I’ve not seen much else on this in other sport associations yet.
* That many clubs really struggle to join the junior section to the adult section, a couple of good things I’ve seen work are Hockey ‘Badgers’ leagues and matches and Tennis  ‘Parent & child’ doubles matches. But for clubs to build a sustaining model there needs to be active support from the adult section & players working with the junior sections. Personally I’m an advocate of the ‘sailing club’ style model of every member must do a day/session per year as condition of membership.
* That how a child reacts when they lose is more important than how they win, after all in their career they will lose far far far more often than they win; congratulate the opposition, take learning from the event, identify what went well, make of note of the things needing development; but don't use the false crutch of excuses...
* Despite how it may sound above, there are a fantastic majority of supportive parents that are very keen to help, assist and support their children and the associated clubs
* Having fun is key - being fearless to lose, to learn everyday and to enjoy the victories - but most of all to smile and enjoy the privilege and fun that is sport!

Some great words I’ve picked up over the time include

There are some superb information and resources around and available, including:

LTA Parenting site
DR Sam Thrower twitter
Everyball Tennis

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