George Browning writes to us parents about a heartbreaking moment in his own sporting journery and how his parents beautifully supported him through it. Enjoy this letter, it has so much learning for us parents. 

Dear Parents,

I have decided to write to you all to thank you for everything you do to support your children’s journey through school. Life is so complicated that it would be easy to mistake the support I’m grateful for as specific to a child’s sporting journey but the difference that any support makes is transferred across everything they do.

As a 17-year-old, I remember coming home from a weeklong rugby residential camp where 40 children my age were being assessed and ultimately selected into a national age group team. We were each given a review by the coaches, signed off by the head coach at the time. This was a piece of paper with a small table showing a list of competencies on the left side and a space for a score out of ten on the right-hand column. I don’t really remember what scores I got for each competency, but I do remember what the bottom box said: “X-Factor? Yes/No”. The answer was no.

It was the most energy draining moment I had ever experienced, and I showed my parents, neither of whom were in the least bit sporty (except my Dad’s love for Norwich City). Neither had played sport at all and neither really knew what it would look like to become a top rugby player. But they both knew exactly what it would take to become a good person, and today I am grateful that they helped me refocus on what I needed to do there and then. It was to accept those coaches’ opinions but to recognise that I wasn’t defined by them. In the short-term, the answer wasn’t to relax but rather to be as busy as possible and they drove me all over the place that summer playing all sorts of different sports. I never did make it to professional sport, so perhaps I didn’t have the X-Factor in rugby, but I am ok with that.

I realise now that everyone does have an X-Factor, but it might not fit a pre-identified task. The important thing is that everyone feels supported to try things, risk ‘failure’ and to move on and the most powerful way to encourage that is for it to be normalised by those around us, role-modelled by people we respect and that we do this in an environment where we feel safe. Parents being there to support your children is so important, whether it is in the classroom, on the sports pitch or at the dinner table. I’m grateful for the support I got, and I am grateful for the support you give.

Thank you.

George Browning is Director of Sport at Reigate Grammar School. He was previously a Director of Rugby and Head of Sport Science and is now passionate about encouraging young people to take risks and embrace challenge. He is also an advocate of collaboration, and not just competition, in sport between schools.

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