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Our house is buzzing at the prospect of sport returning and as their parents, we have our hands firmly on the rudder of helping them navigate this return successfully. For some parents, your kids are buzzing with excitement and eagerness, for others you will see nervousness and uncertainty. In the different emotions being expressed in homes about the return to sport, the conversations we have as parents will be vital and significant as our young people once again step into the sporting arena. 

Here are my top tips on how to support your kid’s return, what to avoid in this transition back to enjoyment and nurturing their sporting potential. 

  • Making promises.

“You’ll be fine”, “you’ll be back to where you were in no time”, “it will be just like before”, “you’ve all been in the same boat”. These might be true, but they also might not and our kids are not silly, they know a stretched truth when they hear one! You can promise you’ll be there to support them, that you believe they have the qualities needed to support them getting back into sports. That you believe they can do it. Share with them those qualities you see in them which will help them return to sport and where you have seen those qualities in action during the lockdown. 

  • Parents being the pacesetter 

We are all going to have an opinion as to which is the best way and attitude to get back into sports. For some, it will be “catch up time” meaning that we believe our kids should work doubly hard and get back double-quick. For others, the speed should be slow and careful, making the most of reconnecting with friends and giving your bodies the chance to readjust. And for some, there will be the temptation to just pretend lockdown didn’t happen, others will still be cautious about the virus and some will now see their role to be Mr/s motivator in our kid’s lives and push them hard to get back involved in as many new ways as they can, as fast as they can.

Any of these might be right for your child, but then again they might be really unhelpful. As a parent, I too feel a small sense of unease about our children’s return, but it is not for us to be the pacesetter. We need to let our child set their own pace. Ask them what they want from us, their sport and how they feel about returning. This is their race, let them run it. 

  • Comparisons. 

As sporting parents, we will be used to the “keeping up with the Jones’” game which is ‘played’ in most sporting parent circles. 

“Wow, they worked hard in lockdown”, “you’ve got to keep up with them”, “I’m not surprised they are doing that well with the equipment they had at home in lockdown” “If you approached your training like them imagine where you’d be now”. Again these might have some truths in them, but it’s just not helpful. 

1) because it shames our children 

2) because they know this anyway and they will not need you adding to their insecurities 

3)  Lockdown was unique and everyone had to cope the best way they could. 

Instead of comparing, ask them this. “I think you handled many parts of lockdown well, of those areas you handle well, what impact with that have on your return?”

Dr Josephine Perry is a sport psychologist who has been supporting athletes throughout the lockdown. “Our young athletes are really excited to get back into their sports and who can blame them. But something important to do with them before they start back is to help them reflect on the last year and what it has taught them. This process can help them realise that the setbacks have built their resilience, tenacity and flexibility, that support from others in their teams is valuable and, most of all, given them some autonomy to know that they really do love their sport. All useful lessons to help them become better athletes.”

  • Asking too many questions. 

Ok, so I’m the king of asking parents to ask sporting questions, but there is a massive danger in asking too many and at the wrong time. Dr Camila Knight did some research into parent-child conversations at a U16 rugby festival. One of the findings they uncovered was that if a player was returning from injury, the well-meaning questions of parents about how the injury felt could put more pressure on their children and actually increased anxiety about they injury. This meant that they changed how they played to protect it, increasing the likelihood of injury! Like their first day at school, we are going to want to ask many questions. Did it go well? How were the coaches with you? Did you like being with your friends? Did you feel like your performance was ok? How did you compare to the others? Etc. Most of these well-meaning questions are often fuelled by an underlying uncertainty and anxiety  So pick a question, keep it as open as you can and then enjoy listening. The challenge is that some children don’t offer up as much info as you’d like. It’s not easy when that happens but try not to fall into the trap of getting frustrated and pushing for more. Hang out with them, love them and eventually they will most likely share any details which need to be shared. 

  • Stories to see the bigger picture.

As parents, one of the biggest tools we have is the stories we share. As we return, keep sharing those stories about your success and failures in times of challenge. This is to inspire, show your family values and support your children. They could be stories from COVID times or they could be from when you were a child. They don’t have to be related to sport but don’t underestimate the power of your family stories to support your child in the next six months. (Just make sure you are trying to model the values you are sharing in your stories.) These stories will help your children see the bigger picture. COVID does not define us or our sporting future. 

To help make all parents master storytellers for thriving potential I’m running a free “stories for sporting success” challenge in June. You can sign up for this free challenge here. 

  • Remember it’s all subjective 

As we return, its important to note that most of this (including this article) is all subjective. The way your children’s coaches and teachers approach the return is subjective. I’m hoping it is mainly about connection and fun, but that is my subjective opinion. Hopefully, your children’s clubs and schools have explained their approach to the return, if they haven’t you can ask them what it is so that you can support them at home. If your child is unhappy, reach out to their coach so that together you can offer the right support. 

As it’s all subjective, trust your children, trust their coaches and trust yourselves. 

Your love will be more than enough to help support them.