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Proactive Parents! How sport psychology can help you to help your child perform and enjoy their sport

At the beginning of this month I had the pleasure of being involved in the Inaugural Fencing workshop series “My Olympic Journey” endorsed by Fencing Singapore.  It was a spirited gathering of Singapore’s Fencing community that offered parents and youth fencers the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from Olympic champion Brice Guyart from France and elite coaches Fencer’s in Singapore.  Throughout the day I had the opportunity to talk with many parents about psychological skills training and how a Mental Notes Consultant uniquely works to support youth athletes in their athletic journey.

In this article, I’d like to share with you my response to some pertinent questions I received from parents during the event and a few pointers about how I work that many found particularly informative.  Ultimately, I believe that together we can be proactive in ensuring our young athletes receive the support they need at different phases in their development and creating positive experiences for all involved in the journey from youth sport to Olympic campaign.

Myths about Psychologists:
1.     99% of the parents who came to discuss sport psychology servicing with me presented a particular psychological dilemma their child was facing and how I could help.
While we are experts at helping athletes process mental challenges and teaching skills to step beyond these obstacles, it is highly valuable for athletes to under-take psychological skills training even when they are performing AT THEIR BEST.  This is a proactive approach that many elite Fencer’s take, as it helps the individual to be more tuned-in to what they do, think, and feel when they are performing well, so they then have a greater chance of replicating this process in future matches.

2.    Most parents discussed a dilemma that had existed for more than 6 months.
Quite often, working with a sport psychologist is a last resort, an option used only when everything else fails.  What many parents and coaches realise is that the root cause of many performance slumps or drops in motivation is psychological in nature and without working to change this aspect, most other changes will not be as effective as anticipated.  For example, I have worked with youth clients in the past who have taken long breaks, even changed coaches and clubs over the course of a year without much effect.  It is super important to recognise that without shifting the state of mind to a more optimal state in training or competing, the results will likely remain the same, even in a different environment.

It is noteworthy to mention that I find many parents are reluctant to initially admit that their child’s performance dilemma could be psychological as this causes them to question themselves.  These parents don’t realise that the psychological dilemma their child faces in their sport is very common and more likely influenced by their child’s individual learning style, personality, and their sporting climate they are amongst.  So parents need not be self-critical in the assessment phase.

The Process of Change:
Another common enquiry I received from supportive parents was, “What can I say to my child to help them through this problem they are facing?”

While words of encouragement are important, and it can be valuable to choose your words carefully, changing a psychological dilemma that is affecting performance, is a “process of change” that the athletes must work through themselves with guidance, and words of encouragement CAN support this process, but it will not solely lead to positive change within the athlete.

When an athlete works with us we create a step-by-step process for change that first involves self-awareness of thought and behavior patterns in competition and training. We then help the athlete build unique mental skills that will help them to negotiate the challenges they face and then establish ways to integrate and review these skills in training and competition. It is through this process that we also engage parents in understanding how to support their child’s mental skills training. No matter how young the athlete is habit change takes time and practice.

Positive Experience before Results:
A focus on creating positive experience and teaching youth athletes valuable life skills was the key message of the workshop series.  Parents play a pivotal role in facilitating these positive experiences.  It is therefore critical that parents understand how psychological skills training can help your child and can also see the signs that indicate outside support might be valuable.

For more information about reading the signs of a psychological dilemma in the sport environment visit a Mental Notes Consultant near you!

Dr Jay-Lee Longbottom PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment to be a proactive parent with Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.