This #ParentsInSportWeek has made me think of my dad. It’s made me think of the effect he had on me and my early experiences of sport.
These days, all my thoughts about parents in sport usually revolve around organising activities and competitions for children – and seeing how their parents relate to their children in the heat of the event. Do the parents encourage, empathise and just enjoy the experience? Or do they push, pressurise and humiliate? Those of us regularly involved in youth sport will have seen pushy parent behaviour that is bordering on bullying.
So, I’m remembering my dad. And I’m remembering sailing with him when I was about 8 years old. We were sailing in a graduate dinghy on a gravel pit. And I was learning to helm – to steer the boat. I was nervous, and this was a big thing for me. I could manage to helm in a straight line and get all the way across the lake. But then you had to “tack” to change direction. This was a scary manoeuvre for me at the time. It must have been a big block because, even now, I can visualise the bank looming up and time running out to push the tiller away, cross the boat, swap tiller and main-sheet hands and head off in the new direction. Week after week I would lose my nerve. I would try my hardest but at the last minute, I would bottle out and swap places with my dad, and he would tack the boat. Then we would swap back again.
What I’m realizing now, and what I never noticed at the time, was his patience. He just let me helm, swap, tack, helm again. I don’t know how many weeks we did this. He never criticised me or pushed me beyond my limit. He very slowly let me build up my confidence. And eventually I must have learnt to tack that boat.
From learning to tack, my skills improved and my confidence in my ability grew. I was hooked and sailing became a huge part of my world. My confidence in myself grew too and I made lots of friends through the sport. I subsequently went on to compete at National level and was invited to join the Women’s Olympic training squad.
In #ParentsInSportWeek week, I am thinking of my dad. And thinking how differently things could have turned out. How easily he could have run out of patience, pushed me to tack before I was ready and put me off. He could so easily have turned me away from sailing for ever.
Thanks Dad. You’ll never read these words. You’ll not know that you instilled values in me that I hold dear and that I am now trying to use to support parents and children in sport. You won’t know what I am achieving now. But I hope that you did know what effect your patience had on my emerging confidence and my love of sailing all those years ago.