How to be a World Class Parent

By Doug Beavers, USPDCA Communications Director
In theory, coaches, athletes and parents all aspire to the same goal in diving – performance that equals the absolute potential of the athlete. You’ve heard it all before: “Do your best” “Be all you can be.” The kind of clichés we coaches thrive on. As you might suspect, I too share this goal of “maximal performance” for my divers. Unfortunately it can’t be done. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an optimist almost to a fault. But I recognize that the pursuit of perfection is only that – a pursuit. This is the thrill of sport. It is in trying to obtain the unobtainable that we find satisfaction. It’s all about trying to close the gap between where the athlete is now and where they ultimately want to be.

Accepting that we cannot reach absolute mechanical or artistic perfection, divers and coaches can still pursue these goals with all of their energies. As long as the diver is moving toward the ideal, he or she is on the right path. But just how close can your son get to the ideal? What causes your daughter to move closer to, or pushes her further from, her ultimate potential as a diver?

Certainly many factors, including build, strength, speed, desire, coach and facility, can have a positive or negative effect on a diver’s performances. Your role as the parent of an athlete can have a tremendous impact on the actual performance of your son or daughter. In fact, I have personally witnessed divers whose progress was so enhanced by the positive encouragement and support of parents that it seemed an almost unfair advantage. Sadly, I have also witnessed exceptional athletes crippled by well intentioned but overzealous parents. So what can you do?

Perhaps you already help with team functions, assist in running meets, or even run the meets yourself. While this is noble and appreciated work, it is not the kind of thing that will directly affect your child’s performances. The way you talk to your child about diving does have such an effect, as does the way you interact with your child’s coach. Do you ask your son if he enjoys it? Do you go to your daughter’s meets? Do you talk to him about his training habits or drill her on her handstand technique? Be careful what you say “yes” to – some subjects are off limits between a diver and a parent. Sometimes parents want to get specific when discussing diving with their children; “When are you going to do an inward 2½?” “Why haven’t you made top ten yet?”

Parents can unknowingly create anxiety and even resentment in their children when they step outside of their role as a parent and take on the duties of the coach. Perhaps a preposterous example will help to illustrate my point….

Suppose for a moment that you were at work and your spouse (who knows nothing about your field) came in and said, “Hold it! I don’t want you working on those Johnson papers anymore. From now on I want you to pay more attention to these Smithson papers here.”

Now, do you disobey your boss and get to work on the Smithson papers, or do you tell your spouse to shove off? Either way you’re in pretty hot water, and it’s getting deep too. That’s the kind of no-win situation you put your child in when you start feeding them ideas on how to improve their diving. Perhaps the coach has completely different plans for your child, of which you are totally unaware. Perhaps he or she knows that attempting an inward 2½ would be absolutely disastrous at this point in your child’s development. Of course your son wants desperately to gain your approval, but he also wants to please his coach as well. It sounds like the Smithson papers all over again.

I will be blunt. I have heard this same sentiment expressed by every coach I have met, so I speak for them as well when I say this; if you are paying me to coach your child, then let me do it! I understand physiology, psychology, physics and fear. I’ve talked to the experts, and I have the experience. If you contradict what I have said, then you undermine my authority (or your own) and you certainly confuse your child. If you do these things, then we are much further from our goal than we would hope.

So what sort of relationship does the most for a world class athlete? There is a special kind of relationship which can propel an athlete forward with great effectiveness, giving them a distinct advantage over the competition. Known as the power point relationship, it can be visualized as an arrow being shot at a bulls-eye. The athlete is the arrowhead itself; he or she is the object which will actually strike the target.

Occasionally in youth sports we come across an obvious case of a parent living vicariously through his or her child’s athletic performances. This invariably leads to a troubled and unsuccessful attempt at our metaphoric bulls-eye. A parent who seeks personal glory through the victories of a child is acting as a second arrowhead. But the fact is that with each attempt at the bulls-eye there can only be one arrow striking the target.

Of course, there are plenty of other roles a parent can take in our archery metaphor. Aside from the arrowhead there is the shaft, the individual feathers for straight flight, the bow which propels it, and the archer himself. See yourself as part of this system allowing your child to hit his or her target. Realize that if you contradict the coach’s instructions you may act as a misaligned feather. By scolding your child for an unintentionally poor performance you serve as a crooked shaft. If you are forcing your own unrealized dreams of athletic achievement on your child, you are, in effect, tearing off the feathers, breaking the shaft and making the game unwinnable for your child. This is his moment to shine; it is her chance for glory. It is not yours to take. Your contribution, positive or negative, may determine whether or not the arrowhead strikes home.

So what can you do? Support your child with unconditional love regardless of the outcome of a competition. A poor practice may warrant nothing more than a pat on the back or a hug. Many of the athletes I have worked with could punish themselves internally much more severely than anyone else ever could. Encourage them to talk it out; diving is a sport filled with fear and frustration. These emotions are always better vented than pent-up. Support them emotionally and financially. As coaches we will guide them on a path toward success. We will feed them the concepts necessary, we will train their bodies and their minds, and together we will take a shot at the bulls-eye.