Tips for being a “good sport parent”

(4 min read)

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Mary-Anne Monckton and I was an Australian elite gymnast. After a total of 18 years in the sport, and 10 years competing for Australia, I have recently transitioned into the role of a gymnastics coach.

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I am passionate about the sport and ensuring that the athletes have a fun and enjoyable experience in gymnastics, as I believe that any athlete can have a long and successful career in sport, when equiped with the right tools.

As with many sports that involve coaching children, coaching is the easy part; sometimes dealing with parents and their expectations can be challenging.

I recently came across this infographic regarding the notion of a so called “good sport parent” and a “bad sport parent”.

While the infographic speaks for itself, here are my thoughts on the subject…

You’re not “good” or “bad”, you’re learning

The title of “good sport parent” V “bad sport parent” suggests that parents can be either one or the other, which is not true. A parent may have some favourable qualities whilst also displaying some unfavourable qualities when it comes to parenting their young athlete. You are just like your child, you are learning; about the sport, about yourself as a parent, and how to best support your child and their sporting endeavours. My word of advice when it comes to this infographic; is not to get disheartened or defensive if you have the tendency to act more towards the “bad sport parent” side. Instead to use this as a tool for reflection to help you become more self aware and make changes to your own attitude and behaviours.

It’s their life not yours

If your child wants to do a particular sport, then let them do it. A parent is much like the coach when it comes to the competition, or match. You can’t do their routine or perform for them- they have to be the ones to do it themselves. If you switch your thinking to this, then you can be a spectator and enjoy supporting your young athlete and the athletes around them, without being overbearing and putting pressure on them to do well. After all it will be them that is doing it, not you.

Win at all costs mentality

My biggest gripe is when parents only want their child to win. Winning is great, but it is the process, rather than standing on the first place podium, that will bear more fruit. What I mean by this, is that sport should be about developing young people’s resilience and tenacity, and assisting them to cultivate characteristics that will assist them well into adulthood. The process of consistently training will teach your child how to be self-motivated, dedicated, committed to continual improvement, with the tenacity and resilience to overcome obstacles. To me, as a coach, these characteristics are what will contribute to achieving the best possible results. If we are focused on the outcome we will miss the important part – that is the process.

It’s the effort that counts

At the end of the day, not everyone can win, but everyone can TRY. If we can adopt this mentality, and encourage our athletes to show up and try their best at every session, this will improve the likelihood developing positive attributes and achieving the best results. One thing I try to make clear to my athletes, is my expectation that they come into the training session with the intention of “working hard”. If they are giving their full effort, then I reward them for that with my words of affirmation and technical corrections. A real world example for parents could be saying, “Well done, I can see that you are really trying land that skill” as opposed to praising the outcome (which is when the athlete does the skill well) with a simple and almost ’empty’ praise of, “you’re a superstar”. This ensures that the athletes are always striving for more and focusing on the effort they put in, rather then the outcome. The outcome is a by-product of what they put in.

Pressure is not the answer – praise is

You know yourself that when someone “forces” you do do something, it takes away all joy, fun and enjoyment you otherwise would have had. Therefore, I urge you, the parents, not to pressure your children into training or performing, but to support them and encourage them to get in there and try their best; and praise them for it. This will help ensure that your child’s love for the sport continues to grow organically, without the added external pressure.

Thank you for reading, I hope this challenged your thinking and helps you in your quest to be the best sporting parent you can be.

Feel free to share this with your family, friends and social networks, to help encourage others on their own journeys.

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Written by Mary-Anne Monckton © 2018

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