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Lessons in Trust: Helping Young Athletes Compete Well

Worried about your athlete’s wellbeing but not sure how you, as a parent, can help? Maybe your athlete has asked for more space, or maybe a coach or trainer has policies about parents’ involvement. There should be boundaries, of course, since athletics also help kids develop a strong sense of self and independence, but as a parent, you still need to monitor their overall health and wellbeing.

Here, TrueSport Athlete Ambassador Abby Raymond and her parents, Cari and Todd, join the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Chief Science Officer, Matt Fedoruk, PhD, to share a few pieces of advice for helping young athletes perform at their best while protecting their mental and physical wellness.

Create your own open-door policy

First and foremost, creating strong lines of communication between yourself and your athlete is key. Your kids should feel as though they can talk to you about anything, from anxiety to bullying to supplements to how puberty is impacting them physically and mentally. Fedoruk is a fan of normalizing family dinners where no topic is off the table, and his young daughters can feel comfortable asking him anything. Sometimes, he says, they have moments where they don’t want to practice or compete. Those times can be challenging as a parent, especially if you’re heavily invested in the sport or you know that your young athlete tends to change their mind within days. Still, listening to them is critically important, Fedoruk says. You may realize that they don’t want to play because of a comment the coach made, or another player on the team is bullying them. Or perhaps, they’re simply over-scheduled and need a break.

Pay attention to signs that something is wrong

As a parent, it’s important to be on the lookout for small changes in behavior that can point to something bigger being amiss. If your athlete is suddenly less enthused about competing, or seems more withdrawn, this could be a sign that they’re being bullied by a teammate or a coach has been treating them poorly. It could also be a sign that something is physically amiss: Overtraining can cause fatigue, or an athlete might be struggling to hide an injury.

Help your athlete avoid risks for doping

Competing well and competing clean are synonymous. And when it comes to young athletes, parents play a major role in helping their athletes make informed decisions in order to avoid substances and methods prohibited in sport. For young athletes subject to anti-doping rules, even seemingly innocent substances like supplements and inhalers have to be carefully evaluated.

Abby Raymond and her parents were diligent about understanding these rules, but even so, they ended up placing too much trust in a supplement. After accepting a sponsorship from a family friend who had recently started a supplement company, 14-year-old Abby tested positive for a banned substance as the result of an anti-doping test. She and her parents were shocked at the result, and later found that it was caused by a tainted supplement that the manufacturer and friend promised was safe. Since then, Abby and her parents have worked with TrueSport and USADA to share her story as a cautionary tale.

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