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Helping our kids flourish at sport – session for parents

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We've all seen parents shouting encouragement and advice from the touchline as their little ones run around a muddy field on a Sunday morning.

The advice may not always be the most well-informed, but the encouragement is usually well-intended, if, occasionally, over-enthusiastic.

But what about when our children start showing genuine potential at their chosen sport and begin competing at a higher level?

How do parents ensure the support they provide offers the best chance of realising that potential?

Well, help is at hand from Sport Wales and a father-of-three who goes by the name of "The Non-Perfect Dad".

Richard Shorter, who has a wealth of experience working with the likes of England Rugby, Manchester United and the England and Wales Cricket Board, will host a number of sessions in Wales to help parents support children along their sporting pathway. One will be held before Christmas with more in the New Year.

The free events, which must be booked in advance, have been organised in conjunction with Wales' cricket, hockey, gymnastics and athletics governing bodies, although parents with children involved in other sports are welcome.

Shorter says: "We're particularly aiming at parents whose children are in a pathway, those children who are showing potential at developing as young athletes in their sports for whom the journey is getting a bit busier, a bit more pressured.

"As kids get into this talent development pathway, there are unique pressures for parents. The diary gets fuller, there are issues around selection, so what can home do to partner with coaches who are trying to help?

"Parents will be having to work with their child's coach, or coaches. How do we juggle schoolwork in all of this?  How do we juggle our child's hopes and aspirations?

"Kids are good at dreaming and we don't want to squash those dreams. But at the same time we need to help them focus those dreams in helpful ways.

"How do parents have conversations with their children which aren't just about 'did you win? did you get a personal best?', but actually helping kids develop those mind skills in that process."

Shorter, who has 20 years' experience in the field, is keen to stress that while the sessions are about the role parents play, they are not parenting classes.

"We know from athletes that parents are ridiculously important to them right up to the point when they retire as senior participants. So, how do parents juggle that journey?

"This isn't about parenting, it's about helping see our kids flourish at sport. Parents don't want to come to sessions about how to parent.

"Every human being knows that their parents are the most influential people on their development when they are younger.

"It's the same for young sportsmen and women, we just want to see these kids have the best opportunity to embrace and develop their potential.

"What the four organisations who are coming together along with Sport Wales and others are saying is 'how do we help parents in this incredible role?' There isn't a manual, it isn't easy.

"It's about helping parents design solutions for their own context. It's not going to be, 'here's Richard's five-step plan to seeing your kid's potential released'.

"We recognise that each sport is dynamically different, each age group is different, each gender is different, every family is different. It's not about a one- size-fits-all solution.

"I know with each of my own kids that if I tried the same approach on each of them, it would fail, massively. I adapt my parenting conversation style to fit the context of that relationship.

"Hopefully, we will have a lot of fun together in the sessions. If people say they haven't had fun I will be very disappointed."

The former youth worker will concentrate on the greatest pressures faced by young sportspeople and their families.

"When I ask children from under 13 to under 18 'what's your biggest pressure?' it's almost always juggling it all . . . what comes top of the list? I don't have a magic wand for that.

"But what that means is that when we're juggling it all, we're all under slightly more pressure, which means our conversations with coaches and athletes can be a bit more strained.

"So we are going to talk about how do we manage those relationships really well? How do we have conversations which fuel potential rather than diminish potential?

"There are questions we can ask or comments we can make. For example, a young person might have experienced a defeat and might say 'oh, it was the umpire's fault today' or 'it was the coach's fault'.

"They might come up with a bunch of excuses and the parent might totally reinforce that - 'yeah, you're right, the coach didn't know what they were doing', or 'I can't believe your team mates didn't pass to you'.

"Actually, those conversations reduce potential. By coming up with those excuses you are reducing the opportunity for young people to grow.

"But when your child's in discomfort having lost, or not been selected, that's hard isn't it? Your kid's sad, you're sad, so it's about how we structure healthy conversations with our kids."

Each event will focus on a particular area, says Shorter.

"The first session looks at goal-setting, what potential looks like. It's what we call a non-linear journey - it's not always an easy journey. How you manage the discomfort of that.

"The following session will look at how you relate to your child's coaches. What are the potential benefits of that relationship? What are the challenges and how do we navigate those challenges?

"A huge number of coaches across all sports talk about selection being a real pain point for parents. It's when they get a lot of communication from parents, which is sometimes helpful and sometimes really unhelpful. How do we communicate when it's not going well with our coaches?

"The last session is all about the pain points with our children. How do we have those conversations? How do we juggle it all? How do we keep going when they don't feel like it and how do they keep going when we don't feel like it? How do you manage a child's expectations, how do you manage your expectations?

"My hope is that parents find this really encouraging, because they'll see we are doing lots of this stuff already.

"Hopefully, it will help parents think about some of their interactions with children and coaches and modify some of those behaviours a little bit."

Each session will be recorded and available from the governing bodies for parents unable to attend all the events.

The first event will be held on December 17 at Ynystawe Cricket Club, near Swansea at 6.15pm.

Session 1:

Ynystawe Cricket Club   https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-73972388405

Cardiff Met  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-77116426307

Session 2:

Eirias Park  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-77118119371

Sport Wales  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-77119816447

Session 3:

Haverfordwest  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-77120664985

Cardiff Met  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/essential-information-parent-engagement-sessions-tickets-77121822447

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