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How support for parents in sport has changed across a generation

Head of Wellbeing at the Youth Sport Trust, Chris Wright, discusses how support for sports parents has dramatically changed for the better since the last decade.

At the age of 14, I was a talented squash and football player. I was an England international under the then England Squash coach Jonah Barrington and was representing England Schoolboys, Northamptonshire Centre of Excellence, and Kettering Town FC in football. I was well on my way to making a career in elite sport.

However, as I grew up through my teens and with the added pressure of academic studies, a bustling social life, and then moving home – something snapped!  Effectively, I was burnt out.

My parents were unbelievably supportive. They did the usual ferrying around across the country and supporting me financially with equipment, kit, and subscriptions – but at the point of seeing their son have a physical breakdown, my parents were helpless.

In those days there weren’t talent support and lifestyle programmes, parent workshops and safeguarding information, sports psychologists or education support programmes…they were on their own.

So how do you go about addressing the physical and emotional wellbeing of a 14-year-old adolescent who was becoming a recluse and pulling his hair out…literally…in fist full clumps?  They reacted in the only way that they knew how and made choices for me – starting with a trip to the doctor. With hindsight, they were ill-informed choices and ultimately (on the advice of the doctor) they pulled me from all sport from the age of 15 to 16-years-old.

From a physical and emotional perspective, the course of action worked, but we have often had the conversation as a family of ‘what if?’  What if they felt empowered and better prepared to support my needs? What if they didn’t stop me playing at the highest level but were able to access the right support and information and cut my participation in other things to help me realize my potential?

So much has changed in youth sport since I was growing up and while there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ – there are no regrets. But that does not stop me from questioning how having access to the sort of opportunities like Performance Parent and the Talent Inspiration Programme programmes when I was trying to battle my own pressures might have impacted my potential in the sporting arena if my family had the opportunities there are today.

As a father of three now there is some simple advice here. Expose your children to lots of experiences when they are young but don’t let them do too much too early.  Don’t be consumed by the push to over-train and over-develop children before they are ready physically or emotionally and when they do find their sport help them manage their lifestyle. Often I find parents insisting they know what is best for their child’s sporting future but they are often ill-informed and believe what they see in the media, or hear from the coach – until the child breaks down and they are left trying to hold it all together.

We, as parents, can prevent young people from looking back on their early years with question marks looming over them and change the ‘what ifs’ into ‘yes I can, and yes I did’.

We think Chris has a good point here. And if young athletes would ever need a financial support on their sporting path, SportyCo is here to help.

Source: Youth Sport Trust