What is winning parent?
The Winning Parent is a concept I developed over the past 10 years and now it is a best-selling book. Naturally, I tried to include parents into the coaching process and regarded us all as a team. I wanted to help educate parents and help them understand what we were all doing together because it’s the right thing to do. Sport is a positive force in the world, a thing that can bring people together not cause stress and fallouts. It is a thing that can bond a family, a place where life lessons and social skills can be honed. Sport is an area where families can practice emotions together, joy and sadness, competition and teamwork, leadership and being led. I have seen my job as a coach to help this aspect along as much as possible. Kids want to be loved and recognised by their parents, they can be their biggest source of inspiration and vice versa.
A ‘winning parent’ is someone who is a positive force in their child’s life and helps them to live and succeed in a way that they and society will benefit from. How they define winning is up to each family.
How did you develop the concept?
Bit by bit really, slowly, through my experiences of teaching, coaching, reading and writing. It was actually parents of children I coach that got me to write the book. I started with informal seminars and discussions with parents and they told me how much I had helped them. That was what really gave me the confidence to put the effort into it. I knew there was a need for it then. I thought if I can just help 10 families then it will have been worth writing it. I also think it’s nice to give back some of my learnings and just leave it there in the world for people to use if they want to.
Once I committed to it, all my research ideas and the “winning flightpath” I developed all came clear to me. I wanted to make it a workbook, I wanted interviews and stories throughout and I wanted to offer examples of my personal struggles coaching competitive sport, particularly with my wife, Laura. I had a sense that all the other books on this topic had basically been “telling parents off” for their pushy and inappropriate behaviour. I certainly did not want to do this as I feel that every situation is unique and 99% of all parents just want what is best for their child’s futures. I have noticed some common pitfalls over the years both in education and in sport but most importantly I have noticed parenting that works well, parenting that helps nurture amazing young people. I wanted to get these examples out there and provide a bit of a “map” to follow for those interested in improving.
Who would benefit the most from Winning Parent?
Firstly, parents who have children that “compete” in sport. The book is about some of the specific things that ‘competitive’ sport tends to create such as tension, results, training pressure, financial and time investment, coaching regimes, goals and expectations, rivalry etc. So there is lots included to help navigate and embrace those things.
Secondly, many of the reviews have pointed out that it is wonderful self-development book for any form of relationship. Coaches in particular have found it helpful and also business leaders who want to energise their staff and look after them better.
You have worked with many professional players. What is the one thing you emphasis the most with them?
Clearly every person is completely unique and I think we forget that. We talk a lot about independence and individual needs and so forth but I do not see it in action as much. So in my opinion, you have to try and PULL things out of them more than you PUSH things into them. If players cannot contribute or are not expected to contribute then naturally I will FORCE my limited views onto them. I will push and then begin to control, which in the end is bad. Innocently, most Coaches just want to help people so they can’t resist forcing their views where a player has none. They want to rescue and fix problems, prove they are worth their money also.
Therefore, it is so important that players “bring something to the party” every session; their opinions, their improvements, their growth. I want them to get to a place where they can lead me and surprise me with changes they have developed almost on a weekly basis. I don’t just mean “talk” or concepts either; I want to see actual change on the court. I’ve had plenty of players who can talk their way to a higher ranking and believe me I fall for their stories every time but in the end what happened? Where did they end up in terms of their competitive standard?
I strongly believe players have a duty to inspire and excite their coaches. This way, the coach will settle into their best rhythm of coaching and really get things moving. Players must believe the answers are inside of themselves, not merely the outside. I also think it is most important that players learn how THEY learn best and take that responsibility on their shoulders.
So for me, call it independence, confidence or intelligence, players have to find their own keys and then ask a coach for that bit of extra help.
How has the experience of working you with Laura (wife, world number 1 squash player) impacted you has a Coach?
I think working with Laura initially caused me problems as a coach, Let me explain why.
I have come to learn and appreciate that Laura’s professionalism and sheer work ethic is extremely rare. Only working with Nick Matthew lately have I seen similar traits. For a long time, I just presumed everybody who was professional was like this. I see Laura in ALL aspects of her life and this is where the hardest part of ‘professionalism’ exists, when you’re not at the court, in the limelight doing the fun parts usually at the courts or in the gym, usually with other people.
The lifestyle is so important for progress. What time do you honestly go to bed? What do you choose to put in your body? Who do you hang around with? Which people do you seek for honest advice? What kind of books do you read? How do you keep your energy levels optimum through the week? What things do you do freshen up your brain and keep your spirit strong? How do you process the bad times? How do you invest in relationships whilst retaining single mindedness?
So working with Laura deluded me for many years because I believed most players were 95 -100% professional. As time has gone on I have understood this is very rare. For Laura, it is all about the little tiny details in everything and nobody ever does it for her. She EARNS every part of her success. It has been unbelievable to see from close up. These are the things nobody will see; a coach cannot help you live a life like this. Yet these are the things that separate you from your competition. That over the years starts to pay you back. It is no accident Laura is improving at 32 when many of her peers have gone the other way. Everyone is surprised by Nick Matthew’s level at 35 years old, I’m not.
So I’ve learned from Laura that coaches are only as good as their players and players are only as good as their lifestyle habits. This is why there are very few coaches who have significantly helped players over many eras, genders, junior and senior, elite and amateur. I always say it’s about the player, not the so called “super coach”. The coach helps make a map, the player MUST travel themselves. This is a realisation that helps you coach better in the end. It takes pressure away and keeps one humble. Yes you get better “map makers” of course, but still it’s just a map!
This is a message strong in “The Winning Parent” also. Guide them through your example, let the way you conduct your own life be the MAP you create. Reduce the preaching and panicking. Let go of control a bit more, understand the “perfect parent” does not exist and remember that the individual themselves is most responsible for how they grow in life. That is the privilege of having a life.
If a person could only come away with one thing from winning parent, what would that message be?
It is all about LOVE.
Within that word are things such as trust, care, self-awareness, freedom, loyalty, innocence, inspiration, patience, support and strength.
If you go back to these things in the way you know how to and keep your heart wide open then life starts to become much easier in whatever you do I believe.