In this module we will 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 to help you provide support to your child in balancing the dual demand of maintaining a sporting and academic career pathway. Sport is a source of enjoyment and well-being, but it can be demanding physically and psychologically and a potential source of stress for both the athlete and the whole family.
I. Potential Challenges
Sport poses several potential challenges. It is physically demanding and time consuming. You must understand that the physical and mental demands of training and competition causes fatigue which needs to be balanced with appropriate periods recovery in order to maximize training adaptations and minimize the risk of illness and injury. Athletes by their nature are engaged in complex interactions with significant others including: coaches, managers, peers, doctors, physiotherapists and other support staff and sometimes with agents and the media. The daily schedule of the family is dependent on the training and competition schedules; family life can be affected not only for parents, but also for the athlete’s siblings. To achieve and maintain success in both sport and education can be difficult and sometimes frustrating. This requires a clear plan and support structure. Competitions can impact on and disrupt family leisure time, especially at weekends; often requiring extensive travel, sometimes abroad, and long periods away of home, for training camps and competitions. Athletes have to manage intercultural experiences and interactions with his/her own teammates and competitors from other countries, it is therefore important to provide him/her with information, advice and support for dealing with such relationships.
II. Parents/Guardian’s Roles
- As a Parent/Guardian your principal role is to provide supportive and a caring environment. This includes learning and understanding the basics about the specific sport: rules and regulations, organizational structure, the physical demands and ensuring the training demands both in terms of type, volume and intensity are appropriate to the athlete´s age and stage of growth and development on their performance pathway.
- It is important to put early success in perspective and know how to identify what it takes to achieve elite level in adulthood, in that specific sport. It is important to have a clear understanding that the development of a successful sport career is a gradual long-term process and needs to be planned and managed accordingly.
- 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 the highest level (see suggestions at the end of the module).
- Keep a constant dialogue with the coach to ensure training practice and in competition do not interfere with his/her decisions. If you wish clarifications about the athlete’s status level or 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 behavior and performance. Keep in mind that there are limits for your intervention. To know more, see module HOW.
- Manage the family time commitment. Everyone is going to be implicated. The best way to address any potential challenges is to have an organized schedule for transportation, meals study and leisure time etc. 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 by being present or keeping in regular contact when they are away.
- You have to be aware that adult elite sport success is accessible to very few athletes. Check the situation in the specific sport. This can be achieved by keeping sport participation in perspective and try to find an appropriate balance between school and sport. Sometimes these schedules may be conflicting and on occasions the athlete will be tired. Help him/her with the homework and keep informed about the academic performance. Be proactive and talk with the teachers to check the potential challenges and potential demands associated with effectively maintaining an academic program. For more information, see module HOW.
- If the athlete tells you 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 module HOW.
III. Specific needs
a) Nutritional needs
The energy expenditure associated with in sports participation needs to be match by appropriate energy availability and that is provided by adequate nutritional intake and hydration. A balanced diet is paramount to face the demands of training and competition, and its content depends on the specific demands of the sport and individual athlete needs. This is particularly important during critical phases of growth and development associated adolescence, when bone mineralization is under an accelerated process and eating disorders may be an issue. Speak with the coach, nutritionists and keep informed about the good nutritional practices in module HOW.
Managing training load and optimizing training adaptation is not possible without adequate periods of recovery. After all, training adaptation occurs during the period after training therefore if recovery is insufficient then adaptation will be sub-optimal. Sleep in terms of duration and quality is also crucial for both physical and mental recovery and adaptation. Adolescents should aim for at least 8 hours sleep per night. Ensure that the athlete has good sleep hygiene practices and the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet and free from distractions such as TV, video games and other devices omitting blue light such as smart phones and tablets. A balanced time schedule to conciliate practices and schoolwork is a family task.
c) Psychological needs
Sport is psychologically stressful. The athlete has to compete with his/peers and adversaries and try to do his/her best to 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 provide a supportive and caring environment which will allow the athlete to flourish. Ask the athlete about his/her performances but be positive and try not to interfere in the coaches’ role. 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 team mates parents can be a good strategy to prevent potential conflicts. It is possible that at a certain time point the athlete may consider quitting sport. As an adult you are older and more worldly wise and it is important you are aware of potential reasons for athlete dropout in order that you informed to provide advice where necessary but also having the ability to respect you child’s decisions (see module HOW). Make sure you are aware of attrition and burnout in sport and be able to read the signs and signals we present in HOW module. Sport may bring complex emotions to the surface, that can be both positive and negative, but are high individual. Knowing the athlete, learning how he/she expresses emotions in the sports field and how you must react to support his/her emotional well-being is very important.
Sports participation has many benefits but there are also risks which can impact on an 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 physiotherapist about strategies that can help prevent injuries. When the athlete gets injured, it is important to ensure that he/she receives an adequate treatment and follows the correct rehabilitation protocol. Re-occurrence of injury is painful, cause extended periods of absence and can lead to dropout. There are other problems related to an excess in training load: non-adaptive syndrome, chronic fatigue, illness, overuse injuries and, in rare cases, over-training syndrome. Initial signs and symptoms may include poor sleep, disordered eating, erratic behavior, isolation from social interaction and lack of motivation to engage in physical activity. Reading these signs, speak to the athlete and seeking specialist advice at an early stage is important (see module HOW). Be aware that that the normal growth spurt and associated hormonal changes linked to adolescence occur at different times with girls typically maturing about 2 years earlier than boys (girls 10-12 years and boys 12-14 years). However, this can be highly individual and it is not unusual for a child’s chronological and biological age to differ by as much as 2-4 years during maturation. During this period of growth and maturation, athletes are physically and psychologically vulnerable and need all the attention and care from their families.
e) 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 behaviors. Performance-enhancing drugs are an obvious risk. Check with the sports organization on the policies implemented and educational materials available on this matter. Be aware that banned substances are now widely available on the internet and are easy to access. 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 surfing the internet/social media can appear as a reaction to boredom 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 HOW).
f) Reading the signs
In all the scenarios outlined above, you have to be able to read the signs and identify the symptoms. These signs and symptoms are briefly described in HOW module. In this context, it is important that Parents/Guardians maintain a constant dialogue with the athlete and with the significant others. There are specialists (health professionals, psychologists, social carers) that can help you.
IV. Understand sport as a way of life
In the pathway to elite performance at the highest 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 another country in order to train in a performance center 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 natural environment can be a powerful emotional and social shock. Even if you are not physically present, it is important to maintain a regular contact and ideally on a daily basis. With increasing specialization, the choices of the athlete are more and more autonomous. Nevertheless, it is important that as a Parent/Guardian you understand your role as a key influencer, guide, counselor and a source of emotional and social support.