I’m Karl Steptoe and I’m the sport and performance psychology lead at Loughborough Sport. As sports psychologists we work a lot with parents because we recognise that they are uniquely positioned to shape their son or daughter’s psychological performance. I think the biggest demand for parents is feeling that they’re being the best possible parents and that can cause them a lot of anxiety sometimes. Athletes bring to the high performance environment the models that they’ve learned at home, primarily – doesn’t matter how much time they spend with coaches and teammates – most of their ways of managing their emotions, and maybe some unhelpful thoughts, come from those experiences with their parents. Most parents realise that how they respond, how they act, is going to have an influence on their child as well, so it’s a real difficult job, but a very important one. One of the biggest areas is to meet the misconceptions about psychology and in high performance sport – it’s not that there’s something wrong that needs fixing and often parents are reluctant to really engage with work because they don’t want their son or daughter to be seen as needing support. Now that is a part of our work, obviously we’re there to support athletes, but as I said before it’s about being pro-active and strengthening. The strategies that parents can work with is how to support their athletes before and after events – how they can help them prepare; how they can help them reflect on competition or training sessions. If there were one thing – if there were a key message to take away for parents – it would be to introduce multiple measures of success beyond winning and losing. Things like personal improvement, developing skills across a number of areas. And it’s that journey home in the car. You know, what’s that conversation the way home? Is it about development? Is about how the player/athlete dealt with difficult situations? Or is it always looking for where there were things wrong and where they can improve? There’s so many things that parents can do – it takes a little bit of structure before and after events, in preparing their child for training and tournaments and then that reflective process afterwards, but it can be enjoyable because you start to see the impact of that work.

Karl Steptoe | Supporting children in the elite sport environment
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