The Brilliant Sarah Murray writes a letter to parents, helping parents consider the potential  support that key staff in a sporting environment can offer. Sarah has over 13 years experience working in professional sport, 9 years of which she spent at a premier league football club leading the performance psychology support club wide. She has worked with both individual athletes and teams including the ECB, various professional golfers, England Athletics AASE programmes, England Lacrosse, Football Referees Association and Sport Coach UK. 

Dear Parent/Guardian,

Firstly, “congratulations and keep going!”. Within youth sport I am not sure that the value and power of the you, (the parent/guardian) is always recognised, beyond being the taxi, the bank, the landlord and the psychologist! So, I would like to say thank you, without you we do not have youth sport, we do not have academies, development squads and the like. 

My story begins as a young (ish) sport psychologist working with youth athletes, it soon appeared that I had a bias towards working with parents of athletes, probably due to a teaching background and recognising what a tough role being a sport parent is.

 My personal experience of the impact a sport psychologist can have goes beyond simply 1:1 work with the athlete. The key stakeholders in a young persons development are often yourselves and the coaches being the people they see most of, spend most time with. Upon my first few months within an elite environment (many years ago) I quickly picked up on the narrative of “dealing with” parents in the system rather than “working with” parents in the system. To bring parents into the conversation we must invite them to be part of the system, this serves to maximally benefit the child athlete surely?

 By bringing you into the conversation it allows for better relationships to be built between sport staff and parents, whose interests usually align, although at times we can forget that both parties want the best for the child within that sport, both seek to support and develop wherever their journey may take them.

 So what can we do within youth sport to further acknowledge the value and voice of the parents?

 My action was to set up a parents programme early on within my role at a category 1 football academy, programmes for parents are often facilitated by a Sport Psychologist who can provide an open space for working with parents and supporting them in their role in the system. I found myself loving the monthly opportunity to listen to parents experiences, they were always so open, sharing their challenges and connecting with each other. The space evolved over 7 years and became less of a workshop presentation of psychological topics and more of a transparent space to have conversations about how the parent’s journey was going. Many found it refreshing that the discussions were not always child focussed but often focussed on how the parent were feeling about their sport parent role and what the system can do to enhance their experience. A space to comment on the difficulties of having other children not in that sport, being a single parent, losing their own identity due to time spent in their child’s sporting world, keeping a job gong whilst balancing hundreds of spinning plates, trying to book holidays! to name a few topics.

 The role of a sport psychologist in promoting the well-being and performance of a young athlete cannot be underestimated BUT the power of working alongside parents in this is huge.

 Thanks again parents/guardians.

Yours Sincerely,

 Sarah Murray (psychologist and sport parent supporter!)

Sarah Murray is a sport psychologist at ‘Performance Edge’. Sarah works with both elite and non elite teams and athletes and coaches to enhance performance and often develop understanding of performance. Her aim is to improve performance and facilitate positive change driven by the client’s individual needs. Sarah takes a person-centred approach that provides personal programmes of support enabling the performer to reach their potential and sustain positive performance changes.

 Twitter: @Sarahsportpsych

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