I’ve been lucky enough to interview many of New Zealand’s best athletes, both on the Athlete Development Show, and in the halls of AUT Millennium. One of the topics I love to ask the athletes about is the influence their parents had on their development and what they did to support their sporting journey.

Overwhelmingly, the stories are the same. Athletes speak of unconditional love and support, particularly through the tough times. They talk about parents who spent a lot of time providing taxi services, attending games, and who showed a keen interest in what they were doing without being overly pushy or offering too much advice. Ultimately, I’ve learnt from all my conversations with elite athletes that the best sporting parents spend more time listening than talking.

So, with that in mind, here are 7 active listening techniques to ensure you’re paying attention to what your child is saying and that you understand what is being said.

1) Affirmations

Nodding, saying yes, OK, or aha as your child speaks shows you’re interested and really care about what they’re saying. Most importantly, accompany your affirmations with eye contact.

2) Silence

Resist the urge to break the silence. It’s tempting to answer your own questions, or ask a second before giving your child time to think and respond to the first. If you ask a question about their game or competition, be patient enough to wait for the answer. Sometimes, particularly when there’s emotion attached to the answer, it might not come until later that evening, the following day, or even a week later.

3) Rephrasing

Get good at paraphrasing. That is, rewording what your child has said back to them. This is a great way to clarify that what you heard was right. The thoughts and feeling of new and challenging experiences in sport, such as losing a tight game, can be difficult to put into words, especially when you haven’t yet had the time to decipher it yourself.

4) Reflection

Adding emotive or behavioural reflection to a conversation, for example “that must have been difficult”, or “I could see that you’re upset”, shows you’re listening. What’s more, it also makes sure you get the right detail so that you can provide valid advice or help if it’s asked for.

5) Listening between the lines

Try to pick up on the little things that your child is alluding to or saying without directly addressing them. Often, it’s the little things that are hiding the struggles, and real pleasures for that matter, of your child’s sporting experience. And it’s not until you know what these are that you can ask more about them. For instance, listen for the genuine reasons why you child is loving the game, or becoming less motivated to play (e.g., a coach who doesn’t listen).

6) Summarise

Capture the key points from what you’ve heard in a conversation with your child so that you can decide what to do with it next. You may need to follow something up with a coach or teacher, look for ways to help your child through a challenging time, or file it under ‘unimportant’ and move on.

What have you learnt about communicating with your children to help them do better in sport? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Be the best you can be,