During the sporting experience our children will go through a lot of changes and transitions, some more comfortable and successful than others. Some of these changes will be through choice, some may be forced upon them and some may happen totally out of the blue.
Transitions may include a change of coach, participating in a new sport and joining a new club, a change of team, moving environments within a talent pathway, progression from age grade sport to open age, being deselected from an academy or performance programme, long term injuries or leaving a sport for good.
We all enjoy consistency and comfort and change can often lead to a mixture of emotions. Change can bring about huge bouts of excitement but can also cause some anxiety.
Our children may be nervous, anxious, vulnerable, unsettled and frustrated during periods of change, but our role as parents is to try and help provide an environment for them to try and frame these experiences as positive experiences, whilst helping provide a toolbox of skills that will allow our children as they grow older to adapt to some of these transitions more seamlessly.
What does that look life for us as parents and what can we do to best support?
• Speak to your child – this may seem the most obvious thing in the world but can often be neglected. Really take the time to ask questions that allow your children to share their thoughts and feelings about the change that they are about to go through.
It is so crucial at this stage that we take the time to really listen, respect their views and ideas even if it does not really align to how we perceive the situation and look to respond in a positive way to what we hear.
Be aware that sometimes there may well be hidden messages with our young people and in not wanting to let us down or show they are struggling they may well tell us what they think we want to hear.
You know your child better than anyone, check their body language, gestures, fidgeting and tone of voice to ensure you are getting the real message.
• Let them know that it is normal to be apprehensive about change – perhaps share some of your own experiences and moments of apprehension. If these can be sports based then fantastic, but even if not, there are many times in our lives where we will have had to go through periods of change, have the same feelings and find ways to adapt to a changing environment.
• Tell them that you are here to help support them – ask them if there is anything that you can find out for them that you will and most importantly tell them you love them!
• Build a culture at home that change presents us with some amazing new opportunities – we do not know what the future holds, our children may think they have the best coach in the world, but perhaps do not know there is someone better suited around the corner.
They may leave teams and join new clubs and see a whole new way of doing things and have an even better experience, making lots of new friendships.
The end of being part of performance programme or an academy system can be devastating particularly if our children sense their whole worth and identity is based around their sporting success and they feel like they may have let us down.
However, having a plan, seeking feedback, exploring alternative programmes can often be a positive experience and many athletes thrive in new environments and bounce back at a later date.
• Have fun together – do things away from the changes that help to show your children that there are a lot of different things going on in their lives and any change does not affect the fun that you can have as a family.
Transitions and change can be challenging for all of us, but particularly for young people. Our role is to do our very best to help them embrace the new challenges in front of them, through appropriate support help them adapt to the new environments facing them and tweak and adjust our support based on what our children are telling us.
We cannot completely smooth the path for our children and nor should we want to as all of these phases of change are part of growing up and help play such an important part in the emotional, intellectual, and social development of our children.
• Gordon MacLelland is the CEO and founder of Working with Parents in Sport, which supports parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. To find out more about their work please visit www.parentsinsport.co.uk.