In this module we wish to discuss “What” is your role as a Parent/Guardian in supporting the dual career of your children. We offer some insights, guidelines and suggestions that may help you to better understand the demands of sport, find and manage relevant information and intervene when necessary.
Sport is a source of enjoyment and wellbeing, but it can be demanding physically and psychologically and stressful for both the athlete and the whole family.
Sport poses several potential problems:
- is physically demanding and time consuming: you must understand that continued effort causes fatigue that needs a complete recovery;
- the athlete is embedded in complex interactions with significant others; coaches, managers, peers, doctors and physiotherapists, sometimes with agents and the media;
- the daily schedule of the family is dependent of the training and competition schedules; family life can be affected not only for both parents, but also for the athlete’s siblings;
- to achieve success in sport and in school is hard and sometimes frustrating;
- competitions can disturb the family´s leisure time, especially in weekends; they often imply to travel, sometimes abroad, and long periods away of home, for tournaments and training camps; check the current legislation on dual career.
- If the athlete has to manage intercultural experiences and interactions with his/her own teammates and adversaries and in other countries, provide him/her with information, advice and support.
First of all. as a parent your role is to provide support and a caring environment.
- Learn the basics about the specific sport: rules, organization, type of effort, muscular groups implicated, volume and intensity of practice that matches the athlete´s age and capacities, characteristics of competition and the path to specialization. Put early success in perspective and know how to identify what it takes to achieve elite level in adulthood, in that specific sport. The development of a successful sport career is a long term process and the outcomes are never warranted.
- It is very important, especially in adolescence, that you know the basics of growth and maturation in order to talk with coaches about the athlete’s career plan and transitions to an upper level (see suggestions at the end of the module).
- Keep a constant dialogue with the coach: in practice and in competition do not interfere with his/her decisions. If you wish clarifications about the athlete’s status level of performance, speak directly and openly with the coach.
- Keep a constant dialogue with the managers, check the conditions of practice, gather information about the athlete´s behaviour and performance. Keep in mind that there are limits for your intervention. To know more, see section C.
- Manage the family time commitment. Everyone is going to be implicated. The best way to face the problem is to have an organized schedule for transportation, meals and leisure time Share the responsibilities with your partner. Weekends with competitions are a challenge for all the family. Do not improvise.
- If you have other children, pay a special attention to them, especially if they are not athletes, as they can feel neglected because of the time arrangements to accommodate sport.
- When it is possible, support the athlete in long-distance trips, being present or keeping in touch.
- You have to be aware that adult elite sport success is accessible to very few athletes. Check the situation in the specific sport, as recommended in a). Keep sport participation in perspective and try to find a virtuous balance between school and sport. Sometimes the schedules are conflicting and sometimes the athlete is tired. Help him/her with the homework and keep informed about the academic performance. Talk with the teachers to check the potential problems and check the school demands. For more information, see Module 4.
- If the athlete tells that he/she intends to abandon school to fully commit to sport, try to provide informed counselling about the perspectives of success in the specific sport and the importance of dual career. For more, see section C.
- Nutritional needs
Effort expenditure in sport needs energy supply and that is provided by adequate nutrition and hydration. A balanced diet is paramount to face the demands of training and competition, and its content depends on the specificity of sport. Especially during adolescence, when bone mineralization is under an accelerated process, eating disorders may be a problem. Speak with the coach, nutritionists and keep informed about the subject (see Module 4).
The training load is impossible without an adequate recovery. Sleep quality is crucial. Ensure that the athlete rests in a quiet environment for at least 8 hours. Pay attention to the abuse of video games time (see e) below). A balanced time schedule to conciliate practices and school work is a family task.
- Psychological needs
Sport is psychologically stressful. The athlete has to compete with his/peers and adversaries and try to do his/best and win. This process can cast doubts about the athlete’s perceptions of self-efficacy and self-esteem. The athlete does not need additional pressure from the family. Your role is to support and care about. Ask the athlete about his/her results but be positive and try to not interfere in the coaches’ job.
Be informed about potential conflicts in the sport environment, especially with coaches and with rivalries with peers. An open dialogue with coaches and with the athlete’s teammates parents can be a good strategy to prevent potential conflicts.
It is possible that at a certain point the athlete wants to quit sport. You are the older- one-who- knows- more and it is important you are aware of the reasons to dropout in order to give an informed advice, but respect his/her decisions (see section C). Be informed about attrition and burnout in sport and be able to read the signs (see below d)).
Sport brings complex emotions to the surface, that can be both positive and negative, but are rather idiosyncratic. Know the athlete, learn how he/she expresses emotions in the sport field an how you must react to support his/her emotional wellbeing.
Sport can be harmful for the athlete’s health. Injuries are a part of sport and can have a multiplicity of causes, but the main aspects are prevention and a complete rehab. Speak with the coach or the physio therapist about the equipment that can prevent injuries. When the athlete gets injured. Ensure that he/she receives an adequate treatment and follows the correct rehab protocol. Recidivism is painful and can lead to dropout.
There are other problems related to an excess in training load: non adaptive syndrome, chronic fatigue, overuse injuries and, in rare cases, overtraining syndrome. The first symptoms are sleeping and eating disorders, erratic behaviour, isolation from social interaction and lack of enthusiasm for any activity. Read the signs, speak to the athlete and search for help (see Module 4).
Be aware that that the normal hormonal spurt that marks the transition for adulthood, that occurs between 10-18 years of age, with different timings for boys and girls, is a period when the athletes are physically and psychologically vulnerable and need all the attention and care from their families.
- Substance abuse and addictive behaviours
The perceived pressures from competitive compel the athletes to cope with their own weaknesses and needs for social recognition. This can lead to the adoption of a variety of risky behaviours. Performance-enhance drugs are an obvious risk. Check with the organization the policies implemented on the matter. Be aware that nowadays, this type of drugs is available in internet.
In the path to elite level, athletes spend a great amount of time in tournaments or training camps where addictions to gambling, video games and online surfing can appear as a reaction to boring or lack of goals.
In addition, athletes can be addicted to training or develop a syndrome of perfectionism that is also stressful. Speak with the athlete and search for help (see Module 4)
- Reading the signs
In all the scenarios exposed above, you have to be able to read the signs and identify the symptoms. In an abbreviated way, those symptoms are described in d). But this does not exempt the parents to keep a permanent dialogue with the athlete and with the significant others. There are specialists (health professionals, psychologists, social carers) that can help you.
Understand sport as a way of life
In the path to elite level, sport becomes more and more a life choice. It can imply that the adolescent athlete leaves his/her home for a distant city or even country in order to engage in a performance centre run by a national governing body or by a professional club. In this case, ordinary family ties are disrupted and coaches and managers assume the role of tutors or guardians. However, separation from family and native environment can be a powerful emotional and social shock. Even if you are not physically present, keep the contact by every mean in a daily basis.
With increasing specialization, the choices of the athlete are more and more autonomous. Learn to understand that without letting down your role as a counsellor and a source of emotional and affective support.