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Supporting young athletes_Image courtesy BPS

Professor Moira Lafferty, from the School of Psychology, is a member of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Sport and Exercise (DSEP), as well as being Chief Supervisor for the stage two qualification in Sport and Exercise Psychology.

She is also a member of the COVID-19 Sport and Exercise Psychology Working Group within DSEP, which is made up of nine academics from across the UK who have come together to develop the guidance, in response to the radical changes young athletes will have experienced since the onset of the pandemic.

It outlines three core principles and guidance to help parents and guardians of young athletes in competitive sport. It focuses on promoting positive wellbeing, at a time when the ongoing disruption caused by COVID-19 continues to impact on their normal sporting routine.

Professor Lafferty said: “Since March, and lockdown, young athletes across the UK have been forced to significantly change their training, with formal training sessions cancelled and competitive sport suspended. Sport is slowly coming out of that darkness, but we’re still far from being in a ‘normal’ situation. This document has vital information to help parents and caregivers of young athletes to navigate these challenging times, and to help them deal with the uncertainties and unknowns – and to manage the expectations of their children.”

Chair of DSEP Rob Morris said: “Parents and guardians play a crucial role in supporting their children throughout their sporting career. Now, more than ever, that support has an impact on the health and wellbeing of their children as they miss training and competition.”

The principles are:

Self-management for parents and guardians – parents and guardians are encouraged to manage their own psychological self-care. It is well documented in research that behaviours and perceptions exhibited by parents are likely to influence a child’s behaviours.

Navigating uncertainty - young athletes’ emotional responses to uncertainty are likely to be amplified due to their psychological stage of development. In life before COVID-19 there were daily or weekly updates in the scheduling of events. But with many events and competitions postponed indefinitely, and no certain confirmation of when some will resume, there is a likelihood of increased amounts of distress in the mind-set of young athletes.

Motivation and goal setting - children may have begun 2020 with a sense of sport purpose and clearly defined performance goals; in turn carers may have created plans of how to help them achieve them. The disruption to competitions and some training, means that their goals may no longer be attainable, at least in the short term. This can lead to demotivation, a sense of loss, and a lack of focus. Care givers are advised to discuss with their young athletes what they want to achieve and set measurable targets. Also to create attainable goals within the constraints of recent government guidelines, and to record and set reviewable time-frames.

The full document can be read at:

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