Parenting a Prodigy
Becoming an elite athlete is hard work. Parenting one is probably harder still. Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard some heart-warming stories of the tireless commitment and sacrifices, behind the scenes, made by parents day after day, year after year, to watch their child realize their dreams.
As a Sport Psychologist, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with some inspiring parents. Yet, they all have the same questions – Am I doing enough? Am I, maybe, doing too much? Have I made my child’s dream my own? Or could I have forced my own aspirations on my child?
Family support is crucial for an athlete to succeed. Yet, for the family, it’s about drawing that fine line between being unconditionally supportive and over-involved that holds the key.
Follow Their Lead
It may be tempting for you as a parent to wish to inculcate habits in your child that have worked for you in the past. You may decide to take a sabbatical from work to accompany your child to tournaments across the country, or may decide to convert one room of your house into a gym to help them with physical training. The problem is that while one child interprets these actions as support, another is likely to view it as excessive parental pressure and insurmountable expectations. It’s best to always involve your child in the decision making. Talk to them and together figure out where and how they truly require your support.
Focus on Effort, Not on Outcomes
Whether an athlete wins or loses is not always in their control. Whether an athlete gives their best effort, however, is. An outcome oriented approach moves the focus away from the here and now to a future situation that isn’t entirely controllable. When talking to your child about the game, the topic of conversation must always be about the effort and the process – not about victory and defeat. If as a parent, you are able to bring about such an attitude shift in your own self, the same is bound to reflect in the young athlete’s mind-set for years to come.
Model Sporting Spirit
We tend to believe that children and adolescents are easily influenced by their friend circle and by celebrities. What we often fail to recognize is that the greatest source of influence in a child’s life is the family. If as a parent you play a sport, chances are your child will pick one up too. If as a parent you smoke a cigarette, chances are your child will pick one up to. How we deal with disappointments, how we cope with stress, how we interact with others, how we express our anger – we learn all of these and more by watching our parents. A great deal of responsibility falls on parents to model positive
sporting behaviour themselves, in order to inculcate the same in the kids. And so, next time, be careful about how you respond to your child losing a point, how you handle criticism, and how you react when the referee makes a bad line call.
Think about when you yourself first picked up a ball or a racket; why did you play – was it to win a medal, to become famous, or was it just because it was fun? I remember the hours I spent playing badminton – the cracking sound each time the racket struck the shuttle perfectly, the thrill of outsmarting my opponent, or simply not having to think about homework while I was playing. Athletes play their best and sustain their efforts the longest when they continue to experience the simple joys of playing. And while hard work and back breaking effort is central to becoming a successful athlete, don’t let it be at the cost of enjoying the sport. Each time you notice your child or yourself worrying obsessively, becoming irritable or feeling demoralized – just take a step back and think about why we all really play.
Be the Parent
Athletes come under the spotlight a lot – every defeat, every error exposes them to the brunt of disgruntled coaches, commentators, team mates, spectators and now twitter trolls. But when you talk to an athlete, their biggest concerns more often than not are ‘how will my parents react’? ‘Were they looking disappointed’? ‘Did I make them proud’?
And so, don’t be your child’s critic, don’t be their coach, don’t let them have to worry about letting you down. Be their friend, be their biggest fan, and most of all, just be their parent.