What parents should say as their kids compete
After meeting with many coaches and athletes, I noticed an issue that kept on coming up in our conversations, both the student-athletes and the coaches were trying to solve the same problem. What was that problem? - The parents of the student-athletes.
You may or may not believe this, but Moms will call coaches to advise them on how to encourage their daughters. Dads will call coaches and ask why their kids are not getting a more advanced routine or more stretching time during their practice time. Each of these calls is understandable. After all, no one has more at stake than the parent of an athlete. They love their child, they’ve invested in their child and they want to see a “return on their investment.” Some athletes refer to their mom as their P.A. (personal assistant) or their agent. I know a mother who watched her daughter’s gymnastics practice in college behind the glass all the time and after would call her coach about what should be done for her little girl. What we as parents may not recognize, is the pressure of this kind of involvement. Let me tell you what student-athletes are telling me: ” I love my mom, but when she does this, I get the feeling she doesn’t trust me...”,
“My parents are great, but I feel like I have multiple coaches telling me what to do and I
get very stressed out over this...”, “I feel like I’m never quite good enough; I can ever fully please my parents...”
Moving From Supervisor to Consultant
According to years of research on athletes, I believe parents have a more productive
impact on their kids by making a change in their life. When our kids are younger, we
play a role of supervisors; we were always there on top of any issues. And this is how it should
be—when the kids are young, they need our support. As they grow, parents must move to the
role of consultant. We should still be involved, still be supportive, but we should allow our kids to grow up and self-regulate themselves. When we fail to do so—we can actually stunt their growing up process. It’s a bit like teaching our kids to ride a bike, remember this process? First, we gave them a tricycle. The three wheels made it almost impossible for them to fall, and they’ve learned to ride it. Then, they moved to a bicycle and it was bigger and had only
two wheels and it was a little scarier. So, we supported them on that bike with training wheels
which prevented them from a bad accident. Eventually, however, we took those training wheels off and our involvement became a tender balance of two ingredients: support and letting go. Did
you catch that? Support and letting go.
"Sports is one of few places in a child's life where a parent can say, 'This is your thing,’ ” Miller says. "Athletics is one of the best ways for young people to take risks and deal with failure because the consequences aren’t fatal, they aren’t permanent. We’re talking about a game. So they usually don’t want or need a parent to rescue them when something goes wrong.
"Once you as a parent are assured the team is a safe environment, release your child to the coach and join other parents-spectators.. That way all successes are theirs, all failures are theirs."
And discussion on the ride home can be about a song on the radio or where to stop for a bite to eat. By the time you pull into the driveway, the relationship ought to have transformed from keenly interested spectator and athlete back to parent and child:
What We Should Say When Our Kids Perform
The most liberating words parents can say to their student-athletes are quite simple.
Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements that moms and dads can
make as their kids perform are:
Before the Competition: Do Do your best
I love you.
After the competition:
Did you do your very best?
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
Six Simple Words…
For years, I wondered what the student-athlete would say about this issue. After
decades of work with athletes, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller found out. They suggest
six simple words parents can say that produce the most positive results in their
performing children. After interacting with students, they report:
College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that
amplified their joy during and after a competition. Their overwhelming response:
“I love to watch you perform.”
That’s it, these six words. How interesting. How liberating to the parent. How
empowering to the student-athlete. No pressure. No correction. No judgment. (That’s
the coach’s job). Just pure love of their child using their gift in competition.
When I learned this, I reflected back on the years my own kids competed in sports, recitals,
theatrical plays, and practices. Far too often, I wanted to play a role that added more
stress to their life. Instead, I now realize—I just need to love them and to love watching
From a parent’s view—this is the best way to raise an emotionally healthy child.