Today’s Topic: 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Sport Parents
Hi everybody. I’m coach Rebecca Smith, and today I’m here today to talk about the 10 do’s and don’ts for sport parents. This is especially for those of you who have young athletes who lack confidence, who get anxious, or who have fragile confidence – they’ll be doing really well, and then one thing goes wrong and everything goes sideways. If you know what that’s like, or if you have an athlete who struggles with recurring mental blocks or fear or general anxiety, I’m talking to you.
Recently, an athlete I was working told me, “I’m still nervous to back tumble, and my parents are stressing me out about it.” In my mind, when she said that, I thought of a dozen athletes off the top of my head who have said the same thing. There are a lot of parents who mean well but are making mistakes and stressing out their athletes.
10 Don’ts for Sport Parents
1. Stop Talking About the Problem
This is mistake number one and it is specifically at drop off and pickup – talking about the problem. That is not your place. I worked with an athlete who was stuck on a mental block on a backward skill on the beam. Every time her mom dropped her off, she’d say, “Go get your backhand spring today! Love you!” The second that gymnast stepped out of the car, she was already tense. She was feeling the pressure her mom put on her when she walked into practice. Now, she’s frustrated before her coach has even said a word to her because she’s already feeling like she has failed.
Support vs. Pressure
In this scenario, mom thinks she’s being supportive and helpful, so when she goes to pick up her gymnast at the end of the day, she’s eager to ask, “Did you do it? Did you do it? How did it go?” No! She didn’t do it because she walked in all stressed out. Then, she didn’t want to talk about it with her coach because she was expecting the same pressure coming from her coach. She wasn’t able to get much progress made, and then she gets in the car and mom reinforces that feeling of failure. So stop it. Don’t talk about the problem. I’ll tell you later what you should talk about in the car.
Now, I’m going to be honest – this is coming from a person who just yesterday ordered a mega bag of jelly beans so that I can bribe my two-year-old to go pee on the potty. The sport parent in me is saying, “Don’t do it. This is a mistake. This is not the answer,” but I just want her to go on the potty and stop peeing on my rugs. So here’s the problem – you, the parents, have your agenda.
My example of this – I don’t want any more pee on my floor, so we bribe with candy. Yours may be “I don’t want your tears in the car every single day” so you bribe with an iPad.
If This, Then That
One of my favorite examples is a mom who meant really well. She told her athlete, “If you get on the podium, then I will get you a cat.” This athlete always wanted a cat, more than anything. This is one of those big mistakes. Unfortunately, she’d get so stressed out, every meet she was in fourth place, fifth place, off the podium. Finally, we talked to her mom. We let her know that the cat incentive seemed to be stressing her out more than helping. I suggested taking it off the table. She did, and guess what? Her next competition, she won all-around, first place, because the pressure was off.
These athletes are already putting so much pressure on themselves, any extra thing that could be considered pressure is not useful.
3. Don’t Threaten
Positive motivation and negative motivation – neither one is the answer. Saying things like, “If you don’t get this sorted out by the end of the month, we’re quitting,” or, “If you can’t go over the vault successfully by this date, I am not dealing with this anymore” is not going to solve the problem. Parents always want the solution, but guess what? They are their own person. They have to figure out their own with their own natural consequences. You just have to be there and love them no matter what.
Compliant Athlete ≠ Happy Athlete
Another thing about threatening is you can create a compliant athlete. I think a lot of youth sports are all about that compliant athlete. You say “do it” and then they do it and you tell them, “do it some more” and they do it some more. “Do it harder” and they do it harder. Every coach loves a very compliant athlete. I think every parent loves a compliant child. But here’s the issue down below – they are terrified of criticism. They can’t handle negativity, they need to be perfect and feel perfect at all times because they think their value comes from saying yes and from doing what they’re told.
In the PerformHappy community, I’m trying to create self-motivated, self-reliant athletes. I’m talking about shifting the mindset of athletes who, even though they’re not ready, they doesn’t feel safe, they still go for it to please their coach. But then they freeze up and they can’t do it and they don’t know why.
Finding a Happy Medium
I’m working to shift them to still be the kind of athlete that can walk into that rotation and go, “You know what? I know my confidence. I know what affects that, I know where I’ve been today, and I know what’s happening in my mind. This is what feels right to me. I have a voice and I’m willing to share that and collaborate and communicate with my coaches, who I trust, who trusts me, will appreciate my relationship with them.”
Self-Trust Translates from Sport to Daily Life
That self-motivated, self-trusting, self-reliant athlete is going to be longterm, a better athlete. They’re going to be longterm, better college students, and better humans because they don’t need the iPad or bribes to keep them moving. They follow their natural consequences and can say, “I really want this for myself.” That’s the key.
4. Don’t Tell Them How They Should Feel
Avoid phrases like, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s okay.” Don’t stress because they are stressed, they’re freaked out, and they’re not happy. Hou telling them not to feel that way just makes them feel like you don’t get it.
5. Don’t Tell Them How Others Are Doing
Definitely don’t say things like, “Oh, look, your teammate just got her vault. That maybe means you’re getting closer.” All they’re going to think is, “Great. I’m failing and you’re noticing it.” Apositive things that you say towards someone else, they will naturally feel like you’re comparing them and going, “You’re not as good.”
6. Don’t Remind Them About What’s Coming Up
They don’t need their parents reminding them about big meets or competition season or evaluations. Avoid anything that is a time-based deadline, like seven more days until nationals. Don’t do that – they already know. The more they’re reminded by their coach, their parents, their teammates, that they only have six days. they’ll think, “I’m running out of time.” Don’t reinforce that for them.
7. Don’t Talk About Money
This is just one more of those mistakes that adds pressure. If you bring up money, they feel the need to be better, be perfect, and to be compliant. They’re going to avoid speaking up and just do what they’re told in order to not burden their coaches you. When you say things like, “Do you know how much I am paying for this?” Yes, she probably does, and it probably weighs on her every single day when she is not feeling confident. Just don’t bring it up.
8. Don’t Offer Helpful Feedback
Don’t give her any coaching. Your athlete is getting corrections from their coach. Then, they’re probably getting slightly different corrections from another coach on their coaching team. If they then start getting corrections from you, they have to choose, “Who am I going to let down today? Who am I going to? Whose correction am I going to try?” They’re going to disappoint someone. Not to mention, they also have their own intuitive thought of, “I think this is probably what I need to do, but then I’m letting everybody down if I trust my own intuition or if I trust my own sense of what my body needs or what my next progression is.” Don’t give them one more thing to feel like they’re failing on like your corrections or suggestions. Even if you won the Olympics in their sport, you’ve hired their coaches. Let the coaches do it. If for anything else, it’s just about consistency and it’s less for them to be distracted by.
9. Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t assume that what works for you will work for her. Maybe you’re fiery and you’re the kind of person who needs a kick in the butt, but your kid might not be that way. Your kid might be more of a go with the flow, don’t make waves kind of kid. If you found that visualizing worked really well for you, it might not work for them because they’re different than you.
Everyone is Different
All of the athletes I’ve worked with, one-on-one and in groups, are different. Everybody, even twins, is different, totally different, in what they need in their mental skills.
10. Don’t Ask Them if They Want to Quit
If every time it gets hard and she’s in tears, she’s hurt, and things are going wrong, don’t ask, “Do you even want to do this anymore?” A lot of parents ask me, “Should we just quit? When should we quit?” I just say, “This is not a ‘we’ discussion. It’s not about you. Once you have committed to competitive team sports, it’s your child’s decision whether or not they want to continue, not yours.” When they hear you say, “Let’s just quit,” all they hear is my mom doesn’t believe in me, my dad doesn’t think I can do it, my parents think this is a waste of money and time. Really it boils down to they don’t believe in me, they don’t think I can get through this. Don’t ask. If she brings it up, have the conversation.
Now we’re going switch gears for a moment.
10 Things Sport Parents Should Do
This is how you breathe new life into that relationship with your athlete. You get them talking. Isn’t that the holy grail, to actually have them tell you what’s going on? Here’s how you do it.
1. Focus On What’s Going Well
Don’t focus on the problem. They are very aware of the problem. Your job is to find what is working because we, as humans, are naturally negative. What you want to do is shift the thought to where they’re forced to see what was good. They’ll get in the car and say, “My day was horrible.” You can respond with, “I noticed that you vaulted really confidently,” or, “Hey, your coach told me that your bars were good.” They might combat that with, “Yeah, but I didn’t do anything on beam.” They might not want to hear it, but if you can, focus on what’s going well or any tiny bit of progress they’re making.
2. Focus on Effort
Most of these athletes are perfectionists. They feel like if they are not doing it on the high beam, by themselves, no mats, no hesitation, they are failing. Every progression along the way up is a failure until they get the perfect version. Say to your athlete, “I saw that you got rid of one panel mat on the low beam today. That’s amazing!” Now, in your mind, you might be thinking, “Why is she still on the low beam?” Don’t say that. Say what you are proud of. Focus on effort. Even if there has been zero progress, even if you can’t find anything to compliment in that practice, just remind them, “I’m proud of you for getting out there and working. You are not giving up, you are determined, and I’m proud of you.” They may respond like, “Why are you complimenting me on the worst practice I’ve ever had?” And just tell them it’s because they got out there and tried. Then take them home and have food.
3. Rides, Hugs, Food, Tuition
Listen up, parents. This is the most important one. That is all you are responsible for. You drive them, hug them, love them no matter what, feed them, and you pay. That is your job. That’s it.
When in doubt, less is more.
Rides, hugs, food, tuition. That’s all you’re responsible for. Isn’t that nice?
4. Always Celebrate
Even if she falls 47 times, even if it’s the worst practice or meet, go out to ice cream anyway. Do your own version of that where you acknowledge that they showed up, they tried, you believe in them, so you are going to celebrate.
5. Take Care of Yourself
If your oxygen mask is not on, you cannot help other people. Put your oxygen mask on first, then assist your child. If you are stressed, if you are tired, overworked, overextended financially… if you are in a situation where you’re always on edge, you’re setting the context for how they sit next to you in the car. They’re going to feel it, then they’re going to mirror it. It’s just human nature. Take deep breaths, do whatever you need to do that’s a self-care act that can allow you to feel a little more comfortable in your skin. That’s going to help her to feel more comfortable in her skin or him to feel more comfortable in his skin.
6. Talk About It
… with other people, not your athlete. It’s okay to be livid with your child. It’s normal. I can relate. It’s okay to feel like you’re wasting all your money on something that is just completely worthless. It’s okay to be so frustrated and at your wit’s end, but do not talk to them about it. Talk to other gym parents, talk to your spouse, talk to your therapist, talk to somebody else who will keep it safe with them so that you can vent and you don’t have to add stress on your kid.
7. Be In Charge of Your Own Feelings and Emotions
Giving your power over your emotions to a 13-year-old is not healthy. I catch myself saying, “You are driving me so crazy!” Really? Am I going to give a five-year-old complete power over my emotions and my feelings? No. If I’m really being a grownup, she could be doing everything wrong, and my response can be, “I feel a little aggravated. It’s not her doing that to me. It’s just happening.”
8. Coping Skills
The best move I can make in that moment is to have my own coping skills around my emotions. Breathe. That’s number one. If you’re about to say “you’re driving me crazy”, that is the key for take a deep breath… or five. You could also walk outside, get some fresh air, call a friend – do something other than giving your child responsibility for the way that you’re feeling.
9. Be Neutral
I talk about this in the Peak Performance Parenting Course in PerformHappy. That’s a mouthful! Be neutral. Let go of the need for her to get that scholarship. I know this is going to be a tough one as well. Let go of your need for her to tumble backwards this week.
Let go of whatever agenda you have for them and just be neutral.
If she falls 47 times, go get ice cream. If she wins, go get ice cream. Just be neutral. Remember: rides, hugs, food, tuition. No agenda, no coaching, no recruiting.
JUST BE THE PARENT!
You can outsource other things, other experts to handle the rest of it so that you can just be the parent.
10. Listen More than You Talk
Try to have them talk 75%, and you talk 25% when they’re talking about their sport. If they’re complaining and it’s annoying you, they’re not taking responsibility, they’re being so negative and you can clearly see what their problem is and you really want to solve it, the best thing to do there is to actually repeat back to them their own words.
- Them: “My coach hates me, I am never going to get this skill”
- You: “That is so hard that you feel like your coach hates you and you feel like you’re never going to get that skill.”
When you do that, they reframe it. “Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme. He doesn’t hate me. He just was being really grumpy today.” They hear their words back and then they can have a rational connection with what they’re saying. Then they can go, “Well, I know I’m going to get the skill.” You didn’t have to say anything. You didn’t have to tell them that their coach doesn’t hate them. They’re going to hear that and say, “Well, no, he doesn’t hate me. He’s just really frustrated with me, and I’m frustrated to try this.”
So parents, next time your kid is venting, just listen and repeat back to them what they’re saying. Then, give them hugs. One more time. Rides, hugs, food, tuition. Rides, hugs, food, tuition. That’s your job. No pressure, no stress.
Parents, I know this is a lot, so just like I tell the athletes – start where you are. If you are doing everything wrong in this moment and you just had a big “aha” moment, just get a little better. You start where you are, get awareness, and then get a little better. That’s it, parents. You don’t have to be perfect.
Thank you for listening. Please reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions. I will see you again soon.