Parents in Sport: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Don’t want to read? Easy. Listen this episode below.

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Early disclaimer/spoiler alert: I’m not a parent. Nor do I plan to be right now.

This article is going to be a viewpoint from having been parented myself and now dealing with parents in a coaching capacity.

Parenting in Sport. The thing we love to hate.

Before I kick everything off, it’s important to note MY parents did an incredible job. I’m proud of who I am, and so is my brother Brad. We have no doubt that our future and hard work we put into what we do is down to them as parents instilling this lust for betterment. So, thank you, Mum and Dad, I know you’re reading this…I can feel it.

While a coach plays an important role in the life of an athlete. You cannot forget how important the role of parents is, how undervalued it sometimes is and also how frustrating it can be.

I’m going to share some of the things I have seen that have worked well, are essential, haven’t worked well and are just downright ugly.

My brother and I had a great childhood and I remember the moment I said I wanted to be a professional cricketer, they shifted into gear. Taking us to training, coaching, games, courses, whatever it was, we went.

Supplying us with the kit when we needed it, missing out of holidays to commit to training. All of this, I cannot fathom as a single man with only myself and girlfriend to worry about (again, see disclaimer above)

As we became more independent, the support grew and evolved as well. Less taxi service, more food, shelter and emotional help where needed.

It wasn’t until I left home and my career ended that I really understood the support they had given and a realization, followed by a tough conversation, of what support I had needed.

I’d needed support that drove my self-confidence and quietened my self-doubts. But they weren’t mindreaders.

I recognized my parents were human, able of faults and programmed only how they knew to be as parents for the first time, like every other.

What they did was incredible. I have no regrets, anything was done wrong in the past, we fix now and in the future. Like any relationship, it evolves and develops. So here’s where we look at what to do when faced with a young person/athlete.

If you’re looking for Gandalfesque wisdom click away now. Here will be an honest assessment of what I think works and what doesn’t. Take it for what it is.


Step back

Let the damn kid breathe. I was fortunate enough that my parents supported me early on by taking both my brother and I to training, games, as many parents do. But when we got to training, that was it. We were on our own. Go learn and find out for yourself.

Now and in the past, I see the odd flyby of a ‘helicopter’ parent. Whether they may be trying to live their own dreams through their kid. Or trying to help highlight their kid in the group, in hope that they get noticed more. I can assure you. I have NEVER seen this work. It either leads to burnout for the kid and loss of passion. Or the coach becomes so disinterested with the parent, that the kids suffers because of it.

You need to be able to let young people figure this out for themselves. I’m glad my parents didn’t protect me from uncomfortable situations. I learnt to navigate the daunting environments through failures and success. Learning what I did well myself along the way, rather than follow instructions and rely on them in the future.

So step back. They got this.


The Power of your Words

“Don’t be so stupid”. You use a phrase like this around your kid enough, they’ll believe it. These trivial, flippant comments can have lasting damage of the confidence and self-value young people.

I’ve become mindful of what I say around my groups. Making sure that what is being said is constructive in the time it’s being said. Am I perfect? Not at all. But it’s moved and moving in the right direction every session.

There’s a balance to have, do not belittle or shame your kids. It’s a big no no. At the same time, keep them grounded, honest, just don’t let your language creep too far into the negative column, keep them positive.


Approach coaches with solutions

I’ve not had an interaction with a coach where parents haven’t come up, it’s usually a tight-rope interacting with parents of young athletes. We are usually on the back-foot thinking that every interaction is going to be one that is full of complaint, unjust selections (or de-selection), nepotism, the list is endless.

My main advice here is, if you come to a coach. Come armed with your issues, that’s fine. But offer up a solution. Don’t dump the issues on them to feel better. They are human. They don’t have all the answers. So use it as an opportunity to form and alliance, a team and work together to build a better player (your player) together.



As a parent, always build self-awareness around your relationship with your kids. Self-reflect and question your moves and intentions. Are you speaking in the right way? Are you properly supporting your kids? Are you steering them down a path they don’t want to go?

Be ready for an honest and candid conversation, whether that’s with yourself, a friend, a family member or even your kids. Be prepared for a response that you potentially would not like to hear. However, by doing this, you open space towards getting better and improving your relationship with your kids and their coaches.


Final Say

A parent was the inspiration behind this post. By coming to me and asking directly what she felt was the best approach to navigating her relationship with her child, I felt the need to talk about this subject. I’m no expert, nor don’t want to be. I’m experiencing things for the first time here, most of it I love. Other parts let me reflect on my own upbringing. While other moments make me want to stick forks in my toes.

And this advice isn’t just for raising an athlete, it’s applicable anywhere.

And it’s worth noting, young athletes should also open up and tell their parents what kind of support they need too. Parent’s aren’t mind-readers, so before you go grunting into another family dinner, just check and see if they really know how to support you. The open conversation could change everything.


Book Lewis for talks on Pathways to Professionalism, Wellbeing in Sport, Overcoming Adversity and Resilience.