Support vs. pressure: A parent’s balancing act

Many competitive athletes grow up with their parents on the sidelines rooting them on. Athletes as young as two or three years are looking up from the field of play, waiting for the thumbs up, high five or pat on the back at the end of a performance.

Parents can be a great source of social support and can play an important role in helping youth achieve their potential by fulfilling several roles. They can be cheerleaders, clapping and encouraging every step of the way, or taxi drivers, shuttling children from one practice to the next.

They can also have a positive impact after a game by acting as a sounding board, ready to give advice; or as an outlet, if the athlete wants to vent after a sub-par performance. Lastly, they make it all possible by providing an endless amount of financial support.

Despite their positive influences, parents walk a fine line between offering support and creating pressure to perform. I often meet with athletes who feel torn by their parents’ involvement in their sport. While they appreciate the various types of support their parents offer, the children may feel pressure to perform or to continue participating in a sport they might have otherwise chosen to leave.

Often, these expectations are not overtly stated; rather, they are assumed by the athlete. For example, while a parent may never tell their child they should score a goal per game, the athlete feels they “owe” their parents for the time and money they have invested. In the end, this pressure can have a negative impact on performance and on the athlete’s level of enjoyment.

Parents often ask me “How do I support my child without creating added pressure?” While there may not be a simple solution, here are some recommendations that may help achieve this balance:

1. Ask your child about their personal goals, as well as how they feel about your level of involvement on a regular basis.

2. Take a step back to gain a different perspective of your child’s experiences and reflect on your verbal and non-verbal behaviours.

3. Discuss your feelings or concerns with other parents who may share similar experiences.

4. Take part in activities with your child outside of that particular sport so that they feel supported in various environments.

5. Accept their personal goals and motivations as well as their perspective on your involvement. As difficult as it may be to take a day off as a spectator, at times, it may be in your child’s best interest. In the end, their enjoyment is what matters most.


Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau

Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau

Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau is a mental performance consultant with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association.


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