The Parent Trap

Herbie's CoachingSimon Herbert is a BTBA Development Coach based at Tunbridge Wells YBC. He is also the team manager and coach for the Kent Junior teams. In this guest post, he shares his observations on the effects that parental behaviours can have.

It isn’t always easy being a parent, and it isn’t always easy being a child.

I’ve been a child and I’m a parent. I’m also a coach. In this short article I’m going to look at different pressures from all sides and talk about the effects that different behaviours can have and how they impact the performance on the lanes.

I would like to start by saying how much support I see from parents and how friendly the vast majority of people are at junior bowling events. Our sport still has a long way to go and we are not alone. A 2015 survey by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the Chance to Shine charity found that 40% of children were put off sport by over-competitive parents. As a parent it’s natural to want to see your child succeed. It can be a difficult to find the right balance between support and falling into the parent trap.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with being enthusiastic. It is great to see and hear parents supporting and cheering, this is a positive way to express support. It is also great to see this positivity extended to cheering on other children too, whether they are in the same team or club, or in other teams or clubs. We’ve all seen the opponent string strikes, make a spare under pressure or pick up a big split. Acknowledging the skill, hard work and determination of all athletes shows great sportsmanship and sets the right example for the children. Heckling, name calling, bad language, rude gestures and negative body language have a negative effect that is contagious and will affect everyone, no matter where targeted. The same applies to gossip, rumours and disparaging comments. These can quickly spread through a team and undo hours of preparation.

I am a great believer in asking questions, in my day job it is encouraged and goes hand in hand with promoting an open and honest culture. In the words of my HR Director “the more difficult and awkward the question the better”. I like to apply the same to bowling, but timing is everything. Parents and children can easily ask the coach questions and address issues before they escalate. It is better to do this quickly but at the right time. In the middle of a practice session isn’t the right time, after practice is good but before practice is better – as long as it is prearranged. A practice session needs to be focused and planned and will sometimes need preparation on the day. Ambushing the coach right before the start of a session is counterproductive as nobody can focus properly on the issue and it can cause a lack of focus during the session.

Questions being asked and issues may vary, after all bowling like a lot of other sports has a mix of parents. Some have a little knowledge, others bowl themselves or may even be instructors or coaches. This can have a good and bad side effect when supporting children. I’ll start by looking at the non-bowling parent. The benefits of not bowling can be that no bad bowling habits are being passed on, this is often outweighed by preconceptions about the sport. The chances are that of you already reading this you will have an interest in bowling. Parents that are new to the sport might not understand the rules or equipment, this is an excellent opportunity for everyone to become an ambassador for bowling and help to fill gaps in knowledge. At the same time, be careful about passing on out of date or wrong information. If there is any doubt, ask first!

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