A Balanced View on Being a Sport-Advocating Parent

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As a director at ICON Training we have taken the decision to fully support Children’s Activities Week, a celebration of the hundreds of thousands of activities, clubs and classes benefiting millions of parents and children every day across the UK. As planning for the ICON social media support of this great initiative evolved it got me thinking (I can still do it – just more slowly than I used to) about my own experiences as a parent of three active children and what the reality is of trying to ensure your children grow up healthy, active and well balanced.

I have two boys aged 9 & 11 and a daughter aged 5 who are all currently participating in two or three sports each. I thought I’d put down on paper (Yes, I am old enough to remember writing things with a pen) my observations on the benefits, downsides and areas where I feel things could be improved in children’s sport. In the spirit of managing expectations, I’d like you to think of this blog as more the back of a cereal packet and less academic paper.

As 21st-century parents, who’ve swallowed whole the notion that we should be actively involved (meddle) in as many aspects of our children’s lives as they can stomach – my wife and I both subscribe to the idea that we should help our children develop both physically and mentally. Having both played sport, we were both aware that whether team-based or individual, sport and physical activity provides a variety of benefits other than the being physically active. I firmly believe that participation in sport can help build self-esteem and confidence, can motivate children to excel academically and can help build social skills.

As someone who played rugby for many years, (If it wasn’t for injury I’d have had a Welsh cap – honest) sport was an obvious way to help achieve these aims. However, even though I signed my children up for their first sports with enthusiasm, neither my wife or I took this decision lightly. Having had many conversations with parents of older children and based on my own childhood experiences I was aware (though not as prepared as I’d like to think) of the expense and time commitment involved in getting my children involved in sport or for the slippery slope of activity escalation over time.

After a few initial hiccups and the odd change of team, my children have now taken to their sporty existence with a gusto that is both awe-inspiring and frankly scary! At the time of typing (this could change by publication) my children are participating in and loving the following; All three are playing golf,(In the spirit of honesty this is great as it has given me the chance to play more golf and reduce my handicap), my two sons are both playing rugby and my daughter will be joining them in September, all three are playing various forms of cricket, my daughter does a dance and ballet class, one son does Tae Kwon Do and there is the ubiquitous football for both boys as well. For the sake of the accuracy and authenticity of this blog, I have for the first time added up the time commitment required as parents to enable these activities. It is as follows and is the total time per week where we as parents have to be involved including travel time: –

• Rugby – 7hrs
• Cricket – 3hrs in winter, 7-8 in summer
• Golf – 3-4 hrs
• Ballet/dance – 1.5 hrs
• Tae Kwon Do – 2hrs
• Football – 7hrs

Having added it up for the first time it is, as you can see, a serious undertaking. It involves spending most weeknights passing my wife like a ship in the night as we manage a set of logistics that Tesco would be proud of and every Saturday and Sunday morning on a (more often than not wet) touchline.

Don’t get me wrong, I get enormous enjoyment (some of the time, particularly when the sun shines) from watching my children develop, succeed, win trophies and cups and learn how to handle defeat. (In the case of the football they get to handle this quite a lot) However, this comes not only at the expense of time but money as well. I personally know several families who have made huge investments in sports like rugby, football, golf, martial arts, hockey, basketball and gymnastics, and those investments have often come at the expense of other important things like family holidays, savings, new cars and quality family time. And, the older the children get, the more expensive and time-consuming these sporting endeavours seem to become.

I hope the above has given you an honest and balanced view of the great benefits and associated time and financial costs of being a parent who encourages sport as a fun activity that improves both physical and mental well-being. However, (there’s always a but isn’t there?) One issue that has become apparent and that can be the difference between your child having a rewarding and happy experience or a soul-crushing one in their chosen sport is the quality of coaching received.
I fully understand and accept that the vast majority of coaches are volunteers who give of their time willingly and freely to coach my child, but it wouldn’t give you a true picture of either mine or my children’s experiences over the last 6 years if I didn’t mention the massive difference between the best and the worse coaches.

There are a lot of “coaches” out there who don’t have either the skills or the right personality to be a good coach and, in my experience, these individuals can do far more damage to young people than they do good. Having worked in both the sport and physical activity sectors (Maybe I should have mentioned that earlier) I firmly believe that the army of coach volunteers who keep children’s sport going need to be able to access, at no cost to themselves, training, skills improvements and teaching techniques appropriate to the sport they coach as well as training in wider physical development. Currently, most coaches do what they do for the love of the sport or their child (Beware if the coach of your child’s team makes them captain and outside half at the first training session) but they are not given anywhere near the level of development and training necessary to ensure children get a more consistent experience that allows them to gain all of the undoubted benefits of sport without the crushing sense of failure that a poor coach can result in.