5 ways to help Optimist Sailors before a regatta

Numerous sports psychologists have studied parental behaviours across various sports, including sailing. A growing body of research has explored the influence of parental practices and behaviours on the experiences, progress, and development of young sailors. Studies have shown that parents focusing on victory, punishing their children, or providing critical feedback can increase anxiety and fear of failure among young sailors, diminishing their perceived competence and promoting maladaptive perfectionism.

Conversely, when parents emphasize the importance of effort or the child’s benchmarks for personal achievement and improvement, they are more likely to foster high levels of commitment, perceived competence, enjoyment, self-esteem, and healthy sportsmanship in their children.

Researchers have observed and coded parental behaviour and examined the reasons behind such behaviours during competitions. Results suggest that parents’ comments and verbal behaviours during competitions are influenced by their goals for their child, perceived sports knowledge and experience, the emotional intensity of the competition, competition level, and aspects related to rules and regulations.

A parallel line of research has focused on asking children about their preferences for parental behaviour before, during, and after competitions. Focus groups and interviews with junior athletes have identified five behavioural preferences:

  1. Avoid providing technical or tactical advice unless parents have adequate knowledge.
  2. Ensure comments focus on effort and attitude rather than results.
  3. Provide practical advice to help prepare and recover from matches.
  4. Respect the rules by not interacting during games.
  5. Align non-verbal behaviours with supportive comments and maintain consistency during the competition.

Recent studies have also examined the quality, quantity, and types of sports-related communication between parents and athletes during car journeys before and after sports events. Video recordings of interactions between teenagers in various sports and their parents highlighted minimal time spent discussing sports-related topics (12.9%) compared to conversations unrelated to sports (28.5%) or periods of silence (59.0%). Parental praise and criticism were generally task-oriented, with few instances of outcome-oriented comments. Moreover, parents asked closed/descriptive questions more frequently, while open/reflective questions were less common.

Regarding discussions in the car before a competition, recent research by Thrower and colleagues (2022) revealed that parents initiate interactive discussions to shift children’s focus away from winning and social comparisons toward personal progress, improvements, and personal efforts. Parents use affirmations, instructions, advice, or trial questions to initiate discussions about the competition. In contrast to previous research on parent-child interactions during post-game car rides, children in this study did not explicitly resist conversations with parents by refusing to answer questions or pretending to sleep. Instead, they employed subtler resistance practices, such as prolonged silences, minimal responses (‘mmm,’ ‘okay,’ ‘yes’), or a lack of engagement (non-proactive sequences), to resist parental attempts to provide advice or instructions on how to perform in the upcoming tennis competition.

Additionally, this study found that when parents are more experienced or informed, they ask open-ended questions, empowering the child to respond and continue the conversation.

In conclusion, this information is valuable as children evaluate their performance, judge their skills, and measure whether they have met their parents’ expectations based on the feedback and behaviours parents provide. From an applied perspective, the results of recent studies also suggest that sports parenting education programs should go beyond generic theoretical guidance (e.g., avoiding direct advice) or traditional communication activities (e.g., role-playing or simulations) and provide real examples of parent-child interactions.


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