Being Parents of Young Athletes

Being a parent is the most under-rated job. There are responsibilities, deadlines, pressure and what not! Of course it is also rewarding but one cannot deny that it requires a special set of skills to base all your life’s decisions and purpose on someone else. Among many things, parents have to master the art of being stoic to provide unflinching support to their child yet at the same time be emotionally present. Moreover, they have to become inconspicuous about their own emotions. It is a herculean task, nevertheless, you see every parent giving it their all to ensure a happier and brighter future for their child.

Now comes the league of the parents of the athlete-child. Being an athlete is not as simple as being a good student- not every effort is rewarded. Very early on in life children learn the simple tenet – “if you put in hardwork, you will see results.” However, for an athlete, that may not always hold true. Hence, the parent’s job is even harder. They have to teach their children, at a very young age, the art of delayed gratification. As adults, we struggle with patiently waiting for our diligence to culminate into a reward, so for children this task is manifold. Moreover, parents also have to bear the discomfort of watching their child go through the ups and downs inherent in the world of sports. Parents must conceal their disappointment and quickly turn that into motivation for their child.

How can one person play so many roles and don so many masks? The most important thing for a parent to recognize is that children start to develop self-esteem at a very young age. Their environment, the messages they hear from those close to them, the activities they partake- all of these contribute to their sense of self. A child who has started to seriously pursue a sport sees themselves synonymous with their sport. So, parents, your child’s self-esteem is directly tied to the sport they play, the wins and losses, your reaction to these outcomes, and the conversation at home about the sport.  Which means that there is yet another task for parents who have athlete-children: you must learn to not get emotionally attached to the outcome of your child’s athletic performance.

Of course, it is difficult but for the sake of your relationship with your child and the development of their sense of self, you must remember to separate your roles. You are their parent, not their coach. Always assume the role of the parent who is there to motivate the child, not to judge their performance. Irrespective of the teenage distancing a child engages in, they need their parents- someone who will always be there for them. So, the best way to motivate your child when they are not performing well is to remind them that their sport is a part of their lives not the epicenter of it. Show them that their performance in the sport is irrelevant to their relationship with you. It sounds obvious to us but children don’t have the capacity to parse complex emotions. Hence, as a parent, it becomes imperative for you to remind them that your love and support is unconditional and not contingent upon their athletic valor.

I am not suggesting that one be soft on the children. You know your child the best, so if they need a little nudge and has to be reminded ever-so-often about following a routine, eating right, sleeping on time etc, then so be it. It is of course your right as a parent to teach your kids the value of hardwork, discipline and inculcating good habits.

Sometimes, parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to motivate their child and think of words and actions to do the same. However, just remember, most of the time, all that the children want from their parents is unconditional support and sometimes that support can just be acceptance of the child irrespective of the kind of day they had on the field.

– Kanika Minocha, M.Ed., M.A.

Consultant – AddedSport

Psychological Counseling

Columbia University

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