The sporting experience allows us as parents to equip many of our children with the life skills to succeed in whichever path they finally choose to take. In many ways, it provides one of the safest environments to practise and fail many of these skills that we so often talk about.
Some of these life skills include communication, determination, resilience, adaptability and self-reliance to name a few and it is the last one that we are going to focus on in this article.
I recently had the pleasure of discussing the importance of self-reliance in our athletes and what we can do as parents to help foster this really important trait with my friend Sergio Lara.
The discussion was fascinating with both of us probably sounding like grumpy old men, discussing our own childhoods, how beautiful it was and the freedom of play that undoubtedly helped us both grow as individuals.
One of the biggest memories for both of us was the long days of play, making up games, some sport and some not, only to return home when we were either hungry or our parents were concerned that it had become too dark outside.
It is easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles on this time but the combination of how society is today, allied with our feelings that we need to schedule our children’s sport and activities has led to a fall in that freedom of play.
One of the key character traits that has potentially suffered because of this is self-reliance and the capacity of our children to do things independently. In affluent societies, in an attempt to care for our children, we have removed a lot of elements that help foster self-reliance, some of which we are responsible for, others which have been brought about due to changes in society and education.
Examples of this may include allowing our children to walk to school on their own, our children playing outside with their friends, going out with their friends and roaming well away from the family home and helping to care for older relatives and siblings.
One of the others that Sergio raised in our talk which I had never really thought about, was that of homework for our children and how so much of it is quite prescriptive, on worksheets and on devices. He felt that many projects set by teachers a generation ago involved going out into the community and doing bits of research, communicating with other people, getting a feel for life around us and then putting this into a really meaningful piece of work. It would be interesting to know how many of you feel about this and whether or not you feel the same way?
There is no doubting that self-reliant children are able to make the transition from adolescence into young adulthood seamlessly as they are equipped to meet some of the demands of the real world.
As a generation of parents, we are all getting put into boxes described as pushy, over the top, helicopter parents, snowplough parents, shield parents and Alexa parents (scheduling everything for them).
However, if we are brave in our parenting and allow our children to develop some forms of self-reliance then we are perhaps giving them the greatest gift of all. If as parents, we want our children to achieve on the sports field then we need to be aware that self-reliant athletes achieve more in the long term.
So, in the sporting context what can we do as parents to help promote and foster some self-reliance? (age appropriate obviously)
Try to allow them to deal with things themselves
Falling out with a teammate, disagreements with a coach, having a bad game, or even losing a game. We do not need to take on the role as parents after losing and making excuses for our children and blaming others. As long as our children know we are there for them, even during periods of silence, then there is a good chance they will recover quite quickly from the disappointment. On many occasions they will recover far quicker than us as parents.
Try not to talk to them during training or games
Allow them to focus on the task in hand without trying to get their attention. There is no worse sight than a child playing sport always looking over to the side for the reassurance of the parent; if that is the case, we have become too involved.
Get them to pack their own bag, snacks and drinks
Can you be really bold and allow them to forget things so that they can see the consequences? This is a tough one, but would it only happen once?
Sergio told me that he explains to parents that if they turn up with the wrong kit, he won’t banish them from training and think any less of them as individuals or as us as parents. This is because he understands that this is part of the learning process.
He also is proactive in his communication to parents so that they are aware of all of this, creating a safety net for the parents as well – great coaching!
With younger children, I recommend that the children do it and the adults check and congratulate their child for going through the process each time, Sergio took a slightly different perspective.
Encourage them to look after their own equipment
Do you make your child wash their own boots for example, or pack their equipment away neatly once they return home?
Do not carry their bag for them
This is certainly something that we can all allow our children to do, hence the title of the article. We are not there to be their kit man, by doing this are we giving our children a greater feeling of importance than they need to have? Does it look like we have a rock star and we are the groupies? Not sure, any of us would really like to be seen as that.
Involve them in meal planning and bedtimes
Bring your child into the decision-making process. Allow them to help with the food shopping, get them into the kitchen to help prepare the food and help them understand the importance of sleep and how much they may need. It may be different on different nights depending on how their week is scheduled.
These are just some ideas, there are many more examples that we could use. Great sports parenting is all about giving our children the wings to fly, try to make sure that you are not clipping these by doing too much for them.
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.