Sally and her husband Peter have four children, all of whom have competed and trained within elite sporting pathways. As a result, Sally is very familiar with supporting children within the competitive world of elite performance pathways. Jonny Reid of Christians in Sport learns how she keeps everyone spiritually buoyant.
Keep results and relationships in perspective
Anyone with a child competing in top level sport will know it can be intense. Not only does your child and their squad or coach want to see results and success, you as their guardian or parent are rooting for them to do well too.
But this situation can become toxic. If results are the perceived key to happiness, all parties can become too focused, obsessed even, with results.
In Sally’s experience, bringing long-term perspective and a right understanding of your role as a parent can help smooth out tensions here.
“Instinctively you want your children to do well, but I think that it’s about keeping things in perspective and thinking a bit more long-term.”
This can look like two intentional actions when supporting your child: not being demanding with results and reinforcing your supportive role as a parent.
Sally expands, “It’s important to not be reactive. Don’t always ask about results; wait to be spoken to. Maybe they want to give you a blow-by-blow account of what’s gone on. You also want to listen to the emotions behind what they’re saying. What is it like for them?”
Sally also reflects on the importance of emphasising long-term support for young performance athletes.
“I think as a parent I need to remember that I’m not the coach, I’m not the athlete. I am mum at the end of the day. And I will always be there, whatever the ups and the downs.”
Christian parents can only provide this ultimate support because they themselves know the unconditional sacrifice and love of Christ and can find secure identity in this.
Sally and Peter have worked to share this truth with their children in intense sport environments.
“When you have a Christian faith, you’re not defined by results and achievements or the silverware on your mantelpiece. I am defined by what God says about me. And I think really that’s what we’ve tried to show our children.”
What wonderful, unconditional love Christians can know and share with their families in the stresses of high-performance environments.
Make the most of travel
In the midst of the long training evenings and weekends filled with tournaments, long car journeys proved to be great chances for Sally to be there for her teenagers. Regardless of how chatty or not they feel ahead of a competition, Sally says that sitting in the car for hours is valuable time to be available for them, as well as an opportunity to learn from God’s Word or the experiences of others together.
Why not check out Christians in Sport’s archive of podcasts if you’ve got long travel days ahead? You can also listen to Game Day, a weekly Bible devotional written specifically to encourage sportspeople on the day they compete.-
Listen to the podcast: https://link.chtbl.com/CISPod
Sign up for Game Day: www.christiansinsport.org.uk/gameday
Sally also reflects on the value of resting with children whilst away for competition.
“On the Saturday night of a weekend away it’s great to make a point of putting away what’s gone on in sport during the day. We’re away so I don’t have to cook, and I’ve only got one child with me. And one-to-one, your children are very different, so you’d get conversation and use that time to really just be available and to enjoy being with each other.”
This is a great a privilege and an opportunity for parents and guardians of young performance athletes.
Guard time with each other and God
Sport can be a brilliant opportunity to invest in your parent-child relationship, but how can time be kept for your spouse? And how about guarding time for your relationship with God?
Hebrews 10:19-25 shows that these relationships, particularly with God, are crucial to cherish in order to better serve and love others.
Sally and Peter were inventive in their approach to protecting time together, creating the ‘half hour holiday’:
“We’d have the most expensive cup of hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows on the top and really celebrate just putting aside absolutely everything else for half an hour.”
Sally also found it helpful to completely set aside time for herself and God. Prayer on early morning runs by herself were particularly precious to create head space and be spiritually refreshed enabling Sally to better support her family.
Finally, Sally emphasises that time with God as a family can look different but still be rich and fruitful when you’re busy with top level sport. Church is so crucial for encouragement, teaching and maturing of Christians, but those involved in top-level competition often find it clashing with sports commitments. She reflects:
“I don’t think God just turns up at 10:45 on a Sunday morning in a particular place. So we took lots of opportunities to do church and to do God, so to speak, in lots of different places.”
This took many shapes for Sally and Peter’s family. From having other sporty families around for a Bible thought, food and prayer; to prioritising mid-week youth groups ahead of a Sunday competition; time in God’s Word and in Christian community has been sought for the spiritual good of the family.
Support children with gratitude
A main thread of the conversation with Sally was gratitude; thankfulness for the chance to share God’s unconditional love regardless of her children’s performance, for the opportunity to spend time with and invest in her children and for the provision of time to maintain relationships with each other and with God as a family.
Every parent or guardian of a child playing top level of sport can feel the pinch that these sporting commitments create. But there are also wonderful opportunities, as Sally has shown, to enjoy and grow within these seasons of life.
Why not prayerfully consider how you can invest in and point your children to Christ more intentionally through their experience of high-level sport?
And if you would benefit from some resources to help reflect, why not download our booklet with the top 10 questions asked by parents of young performance athletes. The booklet, ‘How do I support my child as a Christian in the world of elite sport?’, is available here.