Engaging Parents in Sport

Engaging Parents in Sport

Prepared by : Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by network : Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN), May 2019
Last updated : 30 January 2020
Content disclaimer : See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer
Engaging Parents in Sport
Sport Australia

Introduction

Parents have a unique opportunity to help their children develop life-long engagement and enjoyment with sport and physical activity.

The behaviour of many adult figures (coaches, teachers, extended family, etc.), as well as peers and siblings, play an important role in influencing a child's behaviour. However, parents above all remain the enduring role models that their children use as a basis for their own development.

Parents who actively enable their child’s sport and physical activity can offer encouragement and support—that is, financial, practical and psychological support. This plays a significant role initiating and sustaining a child’s sports participation and positive mindset towards maintaining physical fitness through life.

Key messages

    Behaviour

    Parental behaviours and engagement within the sporting environment, and parenting style and attitudes in general, can positively or negatively influence a child’s sporting experience.

    Participation

    AusPlay data shows that 72% of children with at least one active parent are physically active in organised sport or physical activity outside of school. Participation rises to 89% when at least one parent is both physically active and involved in a non-playing role. 

    Partnerships

     Organisations can foster a ‘partnership philosophy’ which encourages coaches and sporting parents to work together as mutually supportive partners in the development of a child’s sporting potential.

Influence of parents on child participation and development

    Support

    Supportive and encouraging parents who do not overly pressure their child to participate generally provide the best environment for developing enjoyment of sport and physical activity, more frequent participation, and long-term interest in sport and physical activity.

    Encouragement

    Parent and child sport and physical activity participation are positively associated with each other. However, even when parents are less active (e.g. due to physical, financial or time restrictions), consistent encouragement can still result in higher child moderate-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

    Competence

    Parental support plays a critical role in developing a child’s belief in their own physical activity and sporting competence. This influence is particularly valuable in the infant, toddler, and pre-school age periods when children begin to build their movement experiences and physical literacy. 
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

books iconBooks

  • Swimming for Parents: the ultimate education guide for swimming parents’, Barclay G, self-published, (2009). This practical guide for the parents of swimmers covers aspects of athlete development, the parent-coach relationship, the athlete-coach relationship, training, swimming clubs, competition, nutrition and rest and recovery. (held by the Clearinghouse for Sport, GV837.65.B37

Finder iconPrograms

  • Bowling with Babies, Bowls Victoria, (accessed 7 March 2019). 'Bowling with Babies' brings new and expecting parents together to enjoy a coffee, a chat and a social roll. Supported by VicHealth, 'Bowling with Babies' aims to assist less active parents to become more active and enable them time to focus on their physical well-being in a fun, relaxing and comfortable environment – with their baby.
  • Nature Play WA. This program was developed by the Government of Western Australia as a way to get young children outdoors and active. Programs involve engagement with parents, resources include the ‘Family Nature Clubs Tool Kit’ that is designed to provide inspiration, information, and tips for those who are interested in more family time spent in the outdoors. Ideas are drawn from what other families have done and learned and participants are also encouraged to develop and use their own ideas. The Queensland Government, Nature Play QLD and the ACT Government, Nature Play Canberra, have also adopted the program philosophy.   

ReadingReading

  • Facts for families: children and sports (PDF  - 52 KB), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fact Sheet Number 61 (May 2005). As with most aspects of parenting, being actively involved and talking with your children about their life is very important. Being proud of accomplishments, sharing in wins and defeats, and talking to them about what has happened helps them develop skills and capacities for success in life. The lessons learned during children's sports will shape values and behaviors for adult life.
  • Five tips to help your kid succeed in sport - or maybe just enjoy it, Mitchell Smith, Lecturer in Skill Aquisition & Motor Control, University of Newcastle & Job Fransen Senior Lecturer in Skill Aquisition & Motor Control, University of Technology Sydney, The Conversation, (12 February 2019). Provides a brief overview of five points for parents, athletes and sporting organisations to consider for talented sports programs – and kids playing sport in general.
  • How to destroy your child’s athletic future in 3 easy steps, Russ M, Sport Factory, (10 December 2015). Parents are naturally excited about their child’s potential and possible athletic career. The author suggests parents need to objectively look at their motivations if any of these behaviours occur: (1) imposing your own ambition upon your child; (2) overspecialising too early – leading to a higher incidence of sport injury; (3) focusing on a single sport – this often leads to overtraining. 
  • Nurturing a child's sporting development, Sport Australia, (accessed 23 May 2019). Top 10 tips designed to help nurture and support a child's sporting development. Includes some suggested ways in which parents and carers can actively help children develop a variety of skills for life-long sport and physical activity engagement. For a positive, fun and nurturing experience of sport, individuals must remain positive, regardless of the result, and stay realistic in their shared expectations to avoid putting pressure on the child. You can greatly assist a child’s development by providing a strong and positive role model and upholding integrity and respect. 
  • Parental Influences on Youth Sport Involvement in Sports (PDF  - 1.7 MB), Fredricks J and Eccles J, Chapter Five in ‘Developmental Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Lifespan Perspective’, Weiss M (Editor), Fitness Information Technology, (2004). This chapter gives a historical overview of social research on parent socialisation and children’s sport participation.
  • Raising champions: Have fun, be a good sport, Cleaver D, The New Zealand Herald (10 May 2015). The author has put forward a number of ideas for parents to consider, that may help them be more informed about the nurturing of their children’s sporting talent. A summary of key points include:
    1. There is no right or wrong way to raise a child who is involved in sport – only your way. There are multiple examples of children who are actively encouraged at a young age to participate in sport who go on to be successful and happy; and other examples of parents who push their child, with the end result being drop-out and dissatisfaction. The author concludes that what’s important is parents helping their children understand that sport is important for many reasons, including enjoyment, health and social benefits.
    2. Don’t expect children to place the same value on sport as you (parents) do. Children are first and foremost looking for fun and friendship.
    3. Relative age effects do matter, particularly in contact sports. Children born close to the age-group cut-off date are more likely to have an inherent advantage.
    4. Many advanced coaching programs often promise more than they can deliver. Parents should do due diligence on these programs before they enrol their child.
    5. Parents should ask about the sporting philosophy of a school or club before enrolling a child. Philosophies that aim to develop the whole person (as opposed to purely outcome-based aims) tend to be more successful.
    6. Resilience can be learnt, but not taught. Children must learn to fail and then move on; parents play an important support role.
    7. Seek advice when necessary. Parents of athletically talented children are often pursued by organisations – good advice can help clarify the options.
    8. Go in with your eyes open. Parents must understand that only a small percentage of talented junior/youth athletes will rise to the top of their sport as a senior.
    9. Don’t be afraid of becoming involved in your child’s sport. Sport participation can be a rewarding experience for parents as well as their children.
  • Straight talk about children and sport: advice for parents, coaches and teachers (PDF < - 8.4 MB), Coaching Association of Canada (1996). This publication provides important information about the early developmental needs of young children in organised sport. It focuses on children between the ages of six and 12 years, a time when they are most likely to be introduced to sport.
  • Sport Parenting – The performance partnership, Goldsmith W, WG Coaching, (2015). The sporting parent has some important responsibilities within the performance partnership between coach, athlete and parent. A sporting parent, for example, is responsible for helping their child to develop values like honesty, integrity, humility, courage and discipline. A sporting parent can also help their child develop valuable life skills that will help them cope with the demands of sport – time management, getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, and balancing school work and personal relationships. Most importantly, a sporting parent can provide the one thing that no one else can – unconditional love and support.
  • Tips for ParentsPlay by the Rules, (accessed 22 May 2019). Parents can help create a positive sporting environment and reduce sport rage by being good role models. First, watch the short video from ABC journalist and sports coach Paul Kennedy who produced a series of videos for Play by the Rules on tips for parents, coaches, administrators and officials. In this first video Paul talks about setting a positive team environment.

Report iconReports

  • Addressing the decline in sport participation in secondary schools—Findings from the Youth Participation Research Project (PDF  - 3.8 MB), Australian Sports Commission and La Trobe University (2017). Sport, as it is being delivered, is less able to meet secondary student needs. This is particularly true for disengaged students. It is important for sports and sport deliverers, schools and teachers, and parents and guardians to understand the barriers that impact these students, and what can motivate them to participate in sport for active and healthy lives. Parents/guardians are a significant contributor to the school sport culture as they support the direction of the school by continuing to enrol their child, or giving/denying their child permission to participate in sport activities. The conversation at home about sport can significantly affect a student’s attitude and engagement with sport. Parents and guardians are the key influence of sport participation for students. Building relationships between families, students, schools and the sport is crucial for engaging students. Sporting organisations and schools can engage parents/guardians by developing innovative ideas and resources to value-add to their programs. 
  • Australian kids need active, sporty parents (PDF  - 438 KB), Factsheet, Australian Sports Commission, AusPlay Survey (2017). AusPlay research indicates that active parents are more likely to have active children. There is a high correlation between a parent’s engagement in sport and that of their children, indicating that active parents can be a positive influence. Survey data show that 72% of children who have at least one active parent are physically active in organised sport or physical activity outside of school, compared to 53% of children with inactive parent. Being an active parent is a good start; but parents who participate in sport, or contribute as a volunteer in organised sport outside of school hours, boost the likelihood of their children’s participation even higher—child participation was 89% when their parents both played and acted in a volunteer support role. 
  • Parent and caregivers perceptions and attitudes towards children's physical activity and physical education – results of a NZ primary schools physical activity project, Cowley, V, Hamlin M, Grimley M, Hargreaves J and Price C, University Of Canterbury, NZ, (2009). Part of the evaluation of this project was to investigate parents’ perceptions and attitudes to their children’s involvement in physical activity and physical education and the changes in these perceptions and attitudes as a result of this intervention. Respondents indicated that family, school, and enjoyment of the activity were key factors in continued participation in physical activity for children.

Research iconResearch 

  • Athletes' perception of parental support and its influence on sports accomplishments: A retrospective study, Siekańska M, Human Movement, Volume 13(4), (2012). This study looked at family environmental factors and their effect upon different levels of sport accomplishment; low, medium or high. The study concluded that from a practical perspective, the family environment may be the most important social dimensions affecting a young athlete. These conclusions were presented from the analysis:
    • Significantly more high achievers came from a ‘child oriented’ family environment.
    • Compared to low achievers, high achievers perceived their parents as more involved in their own sport participation and in sports in general.
    • From the perspective of a parent, it is difficult to recognise the subtle and thin line between supporting and pressuring a child.
    • As coaches are ‘task leaders’ and parents serve to provide ‘socio-emotional leadership’, the interaction between coach and parents is important to an athlete’s success. Increased coach-parent cooperation that includes open communication was seen as beneficial.
  • Changing associations of Australian parents’ physical activity with their children’s sport participation: 1985 to 2004, Dollman J, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 34(6), (2010). This study examined the associations between child-perceived parent physical activity and the child’s sport participation; and how these relationships have changed over two decades. The results obtained from separate surveys conducted in 1985 and 2004 on Australian children, aged 9 – 15 years, were compared. In the 1985 sample, girls with active fathers trended to play more sport, and there were no differences in boys or girls participation when both or neither parent was active. In 2004, both boys and girls with at least one active parent had a higher participation rate than children with neither parent active, and participation was highest when both parents were active.
  • “Finding perspective: influencing children’s initial and ongoing participation as a contemporary sport-parent”, Elliott S and Drummond M, Proceedings of the 28th ACHPER International Conference, Melbourne 2013, pp. 38-45. The concept of sport-parenting has been a focus of academic research, yet few studies from an Australian perspective have contributed to this discussion. This paper reports on a series of focus group discussions and individual interviews with 102 parents, children, and coaches involved in junior Australian Football from metropolitan, regional and remote areas of South Australia. The participants provided important perspectives on the challenges facing the contemporary sport-parent, and how best to optimise parental involvement in children’s sport, given that parents play a crucial role in the overall sport experience of their children. Three recurrent themes are discussed – home practice, coercive participation, and sacrifice. The findings indicate that most children navigated their way into a junior Australian Football programs as a result of engaging in home practices with their parents, demonstrating the potentially positive role of parents in the early years. Coercive parental behaviours were also identified as crucial in promoting continuation. Indeed, children confessed that coercion was not necessarily a negative aspect of sport parenting, but rather important in promoting and encouraging physically active behaviours. However, coerced participation may be problematic under circumstances where children are negatively pressured into sport and physical activity. Finally, the notion of sacrifice was found to be an enabling factor that encouraged opportunities for sport participation. Although time commitments are an inevitable aspect of sport involvement, this study suggests the significance of parental sacrifices in promoting participation by their children.
  • The importance of parents’ behavior in their children’s enjoyment and amotivation in sports, Sanchez-Miguel P, Leo F, Samcjez-Oliva D, Amado D and Garcia-Calvo T, Journal of Human Kinetics, Volume 36 (2013). Socialization into sport and physical activity can be considered a modeling process in which family members are powerful role models. This research examined the relationship between parents’ behaviour and their children’s (mean age 12.4 years) enjoyment or amotivation toward their sporting experience. Results showed a positive relationship between parental support and players’ enjoyment. Those players who perceived more pressure from their parents were amotivated (i.e. the child showed a negative or unsatisfactory perception of their experience). These results support the observation that positive parental participation can promote a child’s enjoyment for sport.
  • The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport (PDF  - 64 KB), Côté J, The Sport Psychologist, Volume 13 (1999). Case studies of four families having an elite athlete were used to describe patterns in the dynamics of family support throughout the athlete’s development in sport. Results permitted the identification of three phases of participation from early childhood to late adolescence: (1) the sampling years; (2) the specialising years, and; (3) the investment years. The dynamics of the family in each of these phases of development is discussed. During the sampling years, parents were responsible for initially getting their children interested in sport. The results suggested that the main emphasis during this stage was to experience fun and excitement through sport. The specialising years, the athletes’ involvement between the ages of 13 and 15 were characterised by the influence of a significant person, such as an older sibling, parent, or coach. The age at which children begin the investment years can vary greatly depending upon the sport or activity they choose. Because of the increase in training and competition commitments, the child athlete becomes central to family activities.
  • Influences of coaches, parents, and peers on the motivational patterns of child and adolescent athletes, Chan D, Lonsdale C and Fung H, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume 22(4), (2012). This study assessed the relative impact of social influences initiated by a coach, parents, and peers on children and adolescent athletes' motivational patterns (self-rated effort, enjoyment, competence, and competitive trait anxiety). Data was collected on 408 youth swimmers, aged 9 to 18 years, from Hong Kong. The analyses generally showed that the social influence from a mother was strongest in childhood (mean age=10.87 years) and the influence from peers was greatest in adolescence (mean age=16.32 years). The social influence from a coach was greatest on athletes' effort and enjoyment during childhood, and for competence during adolescence. The authors concluded that age appeared to moderate the impact of social influence from significant others on young athletes' sport experiences. Also, the type of influence a coach has on an athlete’s experience will change from childhood to adolescence.
  • Intergenerational transfer of a sports-related lifestyle within the family, Hayoz C, Klostermann C, Schmid J, Schlesinger T and Nagel S, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, (12 April 2017). In this article, the authors discuss the importance of a sports-related lifestyle within the family, parents’ education, and parents’ sports participation background in their children’s participation choices during adolescence and young adulthood (ages 15 to 30 years).
  • More than just letting them play: Parental influence on women's lifetime sport involvement (PDF  - 213 KB), Dixon M, Warner S and Bruening J, Sociology of Sport Journal, Volume 25(4), (2008). This qualitative study examines both the proximal and distal impact of early family socialisation on long-term participation of females in sport. Female children and adolescents identified three general mechanisms of sport socialisation: (1) role modeling, principally from parental behaviour; (2) parents providing experiences and opportunities, and; (3) parents interpreting the value of sport experiences. Although the influence of socialising agents at different life stages seems to vary, there is some support for the idea that early parental socialisation may have an impact on a child’s behaviour later in life, at least until college age.
  • Parent-child interactions and objectively measured child physical activity: A cross-sectional study, Hennessy E, Hughes S, Goldberg J, Hyatt R, Economos C, Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 7 (2010), republished in Active Living Research. The objectives of this study were to determine the relationships between parent’s physical activity related practices, general parenting style, and children’s physical activity level. The results indicated that children of supportive parents accumulated more minutes of vigorous physical activity than those of uninvolved parents. Higher levels of parental reinforcement or monitoring were associated with higher levels of child physical activity. This work supports the current literature by demonstrating the potential role of parenting style on their children’s physical activity.
  • Parental characteristic patterns associated with maintaining healthy physical activity behavior during childhood and adolescence, Kwon S, Janz K, Letuchy E, Burns T and Levy S, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 13 (2016). Many parental characteristics influence a child’s physical activity. This study used data from a large survey in the US state of Iowa, and aimed to: (1) identify diverse patterns of the relationships among parental characteristics, (2) examine the influence of these parental patterns on child sport participation and moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity trajectories during childhood and adolescence, and (3) examine whether family support mediates the influence of the parental patterns on child sport participation. The findings from this study suggest that socioeconomic status (SES) of families had the greatest influence on participation (i.e. in higher SES families, children are more likely to participate in sport at school) and the father’s role may be important to promote youth to sustain sports participation.
  • Parental influence on children’s cognitive and affective responses to competitive soccer participation, Babkes M and Weiss M, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 11 (1999). This study examined the relationship between children’s perception of parental influence and psychosocial responses to competitive soccer participation. The results indicated that parents who were perceived as positive exercise role models, who had more positive beliefs about their child’s competency, and who gave more frequent positive responses to their child’s performance were associated with athletes (children) who had higher perceived competence, greater enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. 
  • Parental influence on sport participation in elite young athletes, Baxter-Jones A and Maffulli N, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Volume 43(2), (2003). This study looked at the background of 282 talented young British swimmers, gymnasts, tennis and soccer players to determine how they were introduced to their sport, and to identify how they were encouraged into intensive systematic training.  This research concluded that achievement in high level sport is heavily dependent on parental support, with sports clubs and coaches playing a later role. In the present socio-economic and cultural situation, many talented youngsters with less motivated parents will not undertake sport, and talented youngsters from a poorer economic background will be heavily disadvantaged.
  • Parental influences on youth involvement in sports, Fredricks J and Eccles J, Chapter Five in ‘Developmental Sport and Exercise Psychology’, Weiss M (Editor), Fitness Information Technology Inc. (2004). This chapter reviews current research on parent socialization and children’s sport participation.
  • Physical activity among adolescents: The role of various kinds of parental support, Henriksen P, Ingholt L, Rasmussen M and Holstein B, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, (8 September 2015). The objectives of this study were to examine the association between various kinds of parental social support and adolescents' physical activity (PA) and to examine whether various kinds of social support (encouragement, joining, watching, and talking) from mothers and/or fathers were differently associated with boys' and girls' physical activity. Parental support is an important predictor of PA among adolescents; however, what aspects of parental support are most important is less clear. There may be differences in the significance of various types of support. Data came from a Danish school survey that included 2100 children at ages 11, 13, and 15 years. The results showed a significantly higher proportion of girls, compared with boys, reporting encouragement by their mother and girls talked more freely to their mother about their PA experiences. A significantly higher proportion of boys, compared with girls, reported that their father watched them participating in sport or physical activity. This study also suggests that associations may be stronger among girls than boys, and also independent of age group, family structure, social class, and migration status. The authors speculate that having an interested parent (either by talking, joining, or facilitating) can support a child’s reasons for continued PA. The authors concede that unmeasured or confounding factors may exist, such as availability of sports facilities or number of friends active in sports, which may influence an adolescent’s views on sport participation.
  • The Role of Parents in the Development of Tennis Players: the past, the present and the future, Harwood C and Knight C, Journal of Medicine and Science in Tennis, Volume 17(1), (2012). This article discusses research papers on the role and experience of tennis parents in the context of player development. A study by J. A. Fredricks and colleagues identified three roles of parents in influencing youth sport, namely parents as providers, as interpreters and as role models. The author concludes that research in the past few years have offered a solid understanding of the positive and negative roles that parents may play in their children's talent development.
  • Select your parents with care! – The role of parents in the recruitment and development of athletes, Ronbeck N and Vikander N, Acta Kinesiologiae Universitatis Tartuensis, Volume 15 (2010). The authors explore the question – ‘to what degree and in which ways do parents influence their children in the development of talent through their socio-cultural contributions’. The absolutely fundamental condition for athlete development is exposure to the athletic setting; and this takes place in a social context composed of the family and the child participant. If parents present themselves as good role-models, then children prefer to identify with them.
  • Sporting excellence: a family affair?, Kay T, European Physical Education Review, Volume 6(2), (2000). This paper examines the central role played by the family in the development of children’s sports talent, with particular emphasis on the practical ways in which families support children’s excellence in sport. Interviews with 20 families from three sports (swimming, tennis and rowing) are used to investigate how family units provide support for young performers, and how they are affected by doing so. The findings showed that, in addition to providing essential financial resources, families’ abilities to accommodate the activity patterns required by the sport are critical to children’s participation. 
  • Supported or pressured? An examination of agreement among parents and children on parent’s role in youth sportsJournal of Sport Behavior, Volume 31(1), (2008). This study looked at the association between parental attitudes and their child’s behaviour in the sport of ice hockey. The results indicated that a child's general feelings about sport was negatively correlated with pressure from fathers, and positively correlated with their perception of hockey. Also, children's perceptions of parental pressure from fathers was a significant predictor of general enjoyment. Father's, but not mother's, perception of child skill was again reported as a significant predictor of child's perception of sport. There also seems to be support for the notion that fathers continue to play a more dominant role than mothers in shaping the perceptions and affective outcomes experienced by their children in sports.
  • Toward a better understanding of the link between parent and child physical activity levels: The moderating role of parental encouragement, Tate E, Shah A, Jones M, Pentz M, Liao Y and Dunton G, Journal of Physical Activity & Health, Volume 12(9), (2015). This study tested the strength of associations between parent encouragement, direct modelling, and perceived influence on their child’s level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Participants in this study were 623 parent-child pairs living in Chino, California (USA) and surrounding communities; children were enrolled in grades 4 to 8 at school. Results indicated that parent and child MVPA were positively associated with each other. Even in less active parents, greater encouragement for their children to be active resulted in children’s higher MVPA. This finding indicates how parenting behaviour may moderate the parent-child physical activity relationship. Parents who find it difficult to increase their own activity levels due to physical, financial, or time restrictions may find that encouragement of their children’s activity may be a useful strategy.
  • Transmitting Sport Values: The Importance of Parental Involvement in Children’s Sport Activity, Francesca Danioni, Daniela Barni, and Rosa Rosnati, Europe's Journal of Psychology, Volume 13(1), pp.75-92, (2017). The transmission of positive values between parents and children is generally considered to be the hallmark of successful socialisation. As this issue has been widely discussed but surprisingly little researched – especially with reference to core sport values – in this study we aimed to: 1) analyse adolescent athletes’ acceptance of the sport values their parents want to transmit to them (i.e., parental socialisation values) and 2) examine the relationship between parental involvement in children’s sportive activity and adolescents’ acceptance of their parents’ socialisation values. From the relative weight analysis (a relatively new data analysis strategy), it emerged that parental involvement characterised by praise and understanding is the most important predictor of adolescents’ willingness to accept their parents’ sport values. Implications of these results and further expansion of the study are discussed.
  • Who will go out and play? Parental and psychological influences on children's attraction to physical activity, Brustard R, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 5(3), (1993). This research tested a model to determine the significant psychosocial variables that positively influence children’s decision to participate. Significant factors include: parental physical activity orientations, parental encouragement levels, and children’s perceived competence.
  • Why do children take part in, and remain involved in sport? a literature review and discussion of implications for coaches, Bailey R, Cope E and Pearce G, International Journal of Coaching Science, Volume 7(1), (2013). This review found that children’s participation in sport is mediated by five primary factors: (1) perception of competence; (2) fun and enjoyment; (3) parents; (4) learning new skills; and (5) friends and peers. These findings suggest that, in addition to the generally acknowledged psychological factors, the social-cultural context in which children play influences their motivations to participate.
  • Winning vs. participation in youth sports: Kids' values and their perception of their parents' attitudes, Meisterjahn R and Dieffenbach, K, Journal of Youth Sports, Volume 4(1), (2008). Young athletes report that their own values are strongly correlated with their perception of their parents' attitudes. No significant age or gender group differences were found.
  • Youth sports: implementing findings and moving forward with research (PDF  - 103 KB), Fraser-Thomas J and Cote J, Athletic Insight – the online Journal of Sport Psychology, Volume 8(3), (2006). This paper provides a literature review, outlines practical implications, and discusses future research needed in youth sport. A summary of research on parental influence indicates that: (1) children who perceive positive interaction with parents experience more enjoyment from sport, (2) positive parental influence is associated with greater long-term participation in sport by their children, (3) parental criticism and excessive expectations of children are associated with participation drop-out and burn-out.
  • Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development (PDF  -169 KB), Fraser-Thomas J, Cote J and Deakin J, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, Volume 10(1), (2005). Literature on the positive and negative outcomes of youth sport is presented. The authors propose that positive outcomes can be achieved through appropriately designed programs that focus on child-adult and parent-coach relationships.

resources iconResources

  • Active for Life is a movement in Canada that stresses the importance of parental involvement in developing physical literacy during the early childhood years. Active for Life advocates that parents should encourage their children to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Research has shown that physically literate children have more fun being active, and that makes them more likely to stay active for life. Active for Life tip sheets include:
    • 6 ways babies develop physical literacy in their first year. Regular movement is essential to healthy infant brain development; a parent’s job is to stimulate and encourage age-appropriate movement in the right ways at the right times throughout the first year.
    • Physical literacy checklist: 0-2 years. There are a number of basic fundamental movement skills that an infant should be learning and mastering and parents usually provide the guidance and motivation for learning. Movement skills at this age include: grasping, rolling over, sitting, crawling, holding on to larger objects to support body weight to develop balance, and walking.
    • Physical literacy checklist: 2-4 years. Movement skills that a toddler should learn and master include: running, throwing, catching, kicking, swimming, and balancing.  Most of these skills are acquired in a social setting through games and play with parents and peers.
    • Physical literacy checklist: 4-6 years. Basic fundamental movement skills that a preschool child should learn and master are: running with confidence, throwing and catching, falling and tumbling, hopping and jumping, skipping, and cycling.
    • Physical literacy checklist: 6-9 years. Different sports place an emphasis on different movement skills, a young child should learn and master a range of skills that will allow him/her to participate in striking sports, dribbling sports, gymnastics, balance sports (i.e. surfing, skiing, skateboard), aquatic sports, and skating or cycling sports. Parents may have a great influence on which sports their child is exposed to, and how they perceive their participation.
    • Developing Physical Literacy: a guide for parents of children ages 0 to 12., Canadian Sport for Life (2011). Developing physical literacy in our children will take the combined efforts of parents/guardians, day-care providers, schools personnel, community recreation leaders and everyone involved in the sport system; each has a role to play. Ultimately the responsibility for developing a physically literate child rests with parents and guardians. Just as parents and guardians ensure their children are in learning situations that result in them having the ability to read, write and do mathematics, they must also ensure their children develop physical literacy. 
  • Parents Guide to Clean Sport mini-coursePlay by the Rules/ASADA/WADA, (2019). At the conclusion of this mini-course you will have a better understanding of the important role you play in teaching your children respect for and appreciation of the true spirit of sport, and be able to inform your children about how to protect themselves in their sport career in relation to performance enhancing drugs and drug use.

Video iconClearinghouse videos

  • Supporting our Sideline Champions, Megan Fritsch, Personal Excellence, AIS and Daniel Josifovski, Athletes, Coaching and Leadership, AIS, Winning Pathways Workshop, GIO Stadium, Canberra (14 December 2017) 

Video iconOther Videos

Parental motivations

Parents playing football with child

Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) has conducted research on various participant segments of the consumer sports’ market (e.g. adults, children, parents, volunteers) to determine the demographic profile of each segment and participation preferences. The Market Segmentation for Parents study explored parents’ attitudes and behaviours towards sports and sport clubs; to better understand the decision making process that parents go through in selecting sporting activities or involvement in sport clubs for their children and/or themselves. This research identified four primary parental focus areas: (1) sport focused; (2) sporty activities; (3) child focused; and, (4) family focused. Key findings from this survey include:

  1. For all segments, a key motivating factor for sport participation is the opportunity of a ‘free trial’ by the club. This can address concerns some parents have about committing time and money to a sport club before being sure that it will suit them and their children.
  2. ‘Sport  focused’ parents are significantly more likely to be motivated by access to good coaching/training, reflecting the importance they place on skill building for their children. Whereas ‘Sporty actives’ focused parents are so highly engaged with sport and physical activity that they are significantly more likely to be motivated by a wide range of factors.
  3. The ‘Family focused’ segment, whose priorities are activities that fit in with family time, may be inclined to join a club if it offers flexible, family friendly options and clear information about what commitment is required.
  4. As the name suggests, the ‘Child focused’ segment is strongly driven by the child. Parents in this segment are motivated to have a child join club sport if their child will primarily enjoy it and secondly will learn values such as teamwork and responsibility.
  5. While a low involvement segment, results indicate that a ‘Club resistant’ segment exists. These parents could be encouraged by more social activities and less pressure for parents to get involved in fund raising, volunteering, etc.
  6. Reflecting their lower levels of engagement and involvement in sport and physical activity for their children, ‘Sport uninvolved’ and ‘Unengaged’ parent segments also exist. These parents are motivated by significantly fewer factors and their motivation to become involved in a sport club is less likely than other parent segments.
  7. Finally, a ‘Self-sport focused’ parental segment, while identifying with many of the benefits of club sport for their children, prefer to make time for their own sporting and recreational activities over their children’s.

The vast majority of parents agree that physical activity is good for their child and that having inactive children may reflect negatively on them as parents. Because of this, some parents feel pressure to ensure their children are participating in some type of sport or physical activity. Overall, however, the choice to participate in sport or other physical activities is driven by both parents and their children.

More information can be found in the Market Segmentation – Parents section of the Clearinghouse. 

Other international research has indicated that key factors influencing parent's decisions about  their children participating in sport are: costs, variety of sports available and time commitments. 

For more information about factors affecting sport participation see the Clearinghouse Sport Participation in Australia topic.  

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

ReadingReading

Report iconReports

  • Parents - Market Segmentation, Latitude Insights for the Australian Sports Commission, (June 2015). The overall aim of the 'Market Segmentation Study for Parents' was to explore parents’ attitudes and behaviours towards sport and sport clubs in order to better understand the decision making process that parents go through in selecting sporting activities or involvement in sport clubs for their children. The study complements evidence from the children’s Market Segmentation for Sport Participation study, and when considered in conjunction provides a holistic understanding of the drivers for both child and parent to help sports create new and refine existing strategies that better target recruitment and retention of children in club sport.
  • Understanding participation in sport: what determines sport participation among lone parents? (PDF  - 430 KB), Sport England report (2006). The demands of being a lone parent means that a child’s participation in sport is made more difficult because of additional barriers such as transport, cost, and availability of childcare facilities for siblings.

Research iconResearch

  • Can't play, won't play: longitudinal changes in perceived barriers to participation in sports clubs across the child-adolescent transition, Basterfield L, Gardner L, Reilly J, Pearce M, Parkinson K, Adamson A Reilly J and Vella S, BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, Volume 2(1), (2016). This longitudinal study of children and adolescents uses an ecological model of physical activity to assess changes in barriers to participation in sports clubs and to identify age-specific and weight-specific targets for intervention. Data on perceived barriers to sports participation were collected from a birth cohort, the Gateshead Millennium Study in northeast England (N>500) at ages 9 and 12 years. The open-ended question ‘Do you find it hard to take part in sports clubs for any reason?’ was asked and responses analysed using content analysis, and the social-ecological model of physical activity. The analysis showed that barriers at age 9 were predominantly of a physical or environmental nature. Young children relied upon parental involvement for transport, costs and permission to participate; also, there was a lack of suitable club infrastructure. At age 12 years the perceived barriers were predominantly classed as intrapersonal. Reponses for not participating in sport included – it’s boring and my friends don’t go to sport. At both ages weight status was not perceived as a barrier to sport participation. The authors suggest that future interventions aiming to increase sport participation among children may not need to emphasise mediating overweight, but instead concentrate on the perception of fun and inclusion. Transport, cost, and access to quality sports programs remain as barriers to participation.
  • Parental perceptions of barriers to children’s participation in organised sport in Australia (PDF  -147 KB), Hardy L, Kelly B, Chapman K, King L and Farrell L, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Volume 46 (2010). Results of research into parents’ perceptions of how cost, time, travel and the variety of organised sporting activities influenced their decisions to allow their child to participate in organised sport. Sporting costs, variety of sports available, and time commitments were the three greatest factors influencing parents’ decisions. 

Parental behaviour

Parental spectators

Parents serve as role models for all manner of behaviours and attitudes that their children develop. Although the behaviour of many adult figures (e.g. coaches, teachers, extended family), as well as peers and siblings, may also influence a child’s behaviour; parents remain the enduring reference (role models) that their children use as a basis for their own development.

Parents can help create positive sport and physical activity environments and reduce poor sideline behaviour (e.g. sport rage) by being good role models.  

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Finder iconPrograms

  • Bowling with Babies, Bowls Victoria, (accessed 7 March 2019). 'Bowling with Babies' brings new and expecting parents together to enjoy a coffee, a chat and a social roll. Supported by VicHealth, 'Bowling with Babies' aims to assist less active parents to become more active and enable them time to focus on their physical well-being in a fun, relaxing and comfortable environment – with their baby. 
  • Working with parents in sport is a UK based company that works with sporting organisations globally [including Little Athletics NSW], providing unbiased information that understands the difficulties that parents and coaches face in today's world. They support parents and coaches in working together to provide children wit the best possible sporting experiences. 

ReadingReading

  • How to destroy your child’s athletic future in 3 easy steps, Russ M, Sport Factory, (10 December 2015). Parents are naturally excited about their child’s potential and possible athletic career. The author suggests parents need to objectively look at their motivations if any of these behaviours occur: (1) imposing your own ambition upon your child; (2) overspecialising too early – leading to a higher incidence of sport injury; (3) focusing on a single sport – this often leads to overtraining. 
  • Nurturing a child's sporting developmentSport Australia, (accessed 23 May 2019). Top 10 tips designed to help nurture and support a child's sporting development. Includes some suggested ways in which parents and carers can actively help children develop a variety of skills for life-long sport and physical activity engagement. For a positive, fun and nurturing experience of sport, individuals must remain positive, regardless of the result, and stay realistic in their shared expectations to avoid putting pressure on the child. You can greatly assist a child’s development by providing a strong and positive role model and upholding integrity and respect. 
  • Parents Making Youth Sports a Positive Experience: Role Models, Daniel Francis Perkins, PennState Extension, (20 October 2017). The atmosphere set by organizations, parents, and coaches is a major factor in determining whether or not youth will have a positive experience in a sports program. This bulletin is written to assist parents in fostering a positive climate that enables children and youth involved in sports to enjoy them-selves and reach their full potential. It focuses on the benefits and risks of youth sports, discusses parents as role models, and provides practical tips for parents. 
  • Why kids quit sports, Rogers S, Active for Life, (9 April 2014). In many countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, the number of children who sign up each year for team sports and then quit after a year or two can be substantial. Australian research offers these insights into why kids quit sports: (1) they’re not having fun; (2) they feel awkward because they lack physical literacy; (3) their parents become too enthusiastic, to the point of becoming obnoxious; and (4) they dread the post-game analysis by parents.

Research iconResearch

  • Athletes' perception of parental support and its influence on sports accomplishments: A retrospective study, Siekańska M, Human Movement, Volume 13(4), (2012). This study looked at family environmental factors and their affect upon different levels of sport accomplishment; low, medium or high. The study concluded that from a practical perspective, the family environment may be the most important social dimensions affecting a young athlete. These conclusions were presented from the analysis:
    • Significantly more high achievers came from a ‘child oriented’ family environment.
    • Compared to low achievers, high achievers perceived their parents as more involved in their own sport participation and in sports in general.
    • From the perspective of a parent, it is difficult to recognise the subtle and thin line between supporting and pressuring a child.
    • As coaches are ‘task leaders’ and parents serve to provide ‘socio-emotional leadership’, the interaction between coach and parents is important to an athlete’s success. Increased coach-parent cooperation that includes open communication was seen as beneficial. 
  • During play, the break, and the drive home: the meaning of parental verbal behaviour in youth sport, Elliott S and Drummond M, Leisure Studies, (28 October 2016). Problematic behaviours by parents involved in youth sports generally focuses on the frequency and nature of verbal criticism, swearing and verbal abuse. There is a current lack of understanding surrounding the social significance (or lack thereof) of parental comments, criticisms and abuse in the context of youth sport. This paper reports on a study which sought to generate a greater understanding of parental involvement in the junior Australian Football experience. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with both parents and youth participants (N = 86) currently involved in a competitive Australian football season. The findings reveal how parents and youth attribute different social meaning to parental verbal behaviour during play, during the breaks, and on the drive home. While youth appear to experience parental verbal behaviour in polarising ways (good or bad), parents rationalise their own verbal behaviour and in doing so, contribute to a broader social perception of sport parenting behaviour.
  • The effects of adult involvement on children participating in organised team sports (PDF  - 1.4 MB), Walters S, Schluter P, Thomson R and Payne D, Auckland University of Technology (2011). This study focuses on adult behavior at children’s organised sporting events and examines their effects.
  • “Finding perspective: influencing children’s initial and ongoing participation as a contemporary sport-parent”, Elliott S and Drummond M, Proceedings of the 28th ACHPER International Conference, Melbourne 2013, pp. 38-45. The concept of sport-parenting has been a focus of academic research, yet few studies from an Australian perspective have contributed to this discussion. This paper reports on a series of focus group discussions and individual interviews with 102 parents, children, and coaches involved in junior Australian Football from metropolitan, regional and remote areas of South Australia. The participants provided important perspectives on the challenges facing the contemporary sport-parent, and how best to optimise parental involvement in children’s sport, given that parents play a crucial role in the overall sport experience of their children. Three recurrent themes are discussed – home practice, coercive participation, and sacrifice. The findings indicate that most children navigated their way into a junior Australian Football programs as a result of engaging in home practices with their parents, demonstrating the potentially positive role of parents in the early years. Coercive parental behaviours were also identified as crucial in promoting continuation. Indeed, children confessed that coercion was not necessarily a negative aspect of sport parenting, but rather important in promoting and encouraging physically active behaviours. However, coerced participation may be problematic under circumstances where children are negatively pressured into sport and physical activity. Finally, the notion of sacrifice was found to be an enabling factor that encouraged opportunities for sport participation. Although time commitments are an inevitable aspect of sport involvement, this study suggests the significance of parental sacrifices in promoting participation by their children.
  • The importance of parents’ behavior in their children’s enjoyment and amotivation in sports, Sanchez-Miguel P, Leo F, Samcjez-Oliva D, Amado D and Garcia-Calvo T, Journal of Human Kinetics, Volume 36 (2013). Socialization into sport and physical activity can be considered a modeling process in which family members are powerful role models. This research examined the relationship between parents’ behaviour and their children’s (mean age 12.4 years) enjoyment or amotivation toward their sporting experience. Results showed a positive relationship between parental support and players’ enjoyment. Those players who perceived more pressure from their parents were amotivated (i.e. the child showed a negative or unsatisfactory perception of their experience). These results support the observation that positive parental participation can promote a child’s enjoyment for sport.
  • The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport (PDF  - 64 KB), Côté J, The Sport Psychologist, Volume 13 (1999). Case studies of four families having an elite athlete were used to describe patterns in the dynamics of family support throughout the athlete’s development in sport. Results permitted the identification of three phases of participation from early childhood to late adolescence: (1) the sampling years; (2) the specialising years, and; (3) the investment years. The dynamics of the family in each of these phases of development is discussed. During the sampling years, parents were responsible for initially getting their children interested in sport. The results suggested that the main emphasis during this stage was to experience fun and excitement through sport. The specialising years, the athletes’ involvement between the ages of 13 and 15 were characterised by the influence of a significant person, such as an older sibling, parent, or coach. The age at which children begin the investment years can vary greatly depending upon the sport or activity they choose. Because of the increase in training and competition commitments, the child athlete becomes central to family activities.
  • Influences of coaches, parents, and peers on the motivational patterns of child and adolescent athletes, Chan D, Lonsdale C and Fung H, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume 22(4), (2012). This study assessed the relative impact of social influences initiated by a coach, parents, and peers on children and adolescent athletes' motivational patterns (self-rated effort, enjoyment, competence, and competitive trait anxiety). Data was collected on 408 youth swimmers, aged 9 to 18 years, from Hong Kong. The analyses generally showed that the social influence from a mother was strongest in childhood (mean age=10.87 years) and the influence from peers was greatest in adolescence (mean age=16.32 years). The social influence from a coach was greatest on athletes' effort and enjoyment during childhood, and for competence during adolescence. The authors concluded that age appeared to moderate the impact of social influence from significant others on young athletes' sport experiences. Also, the type of influence a coach has on an athlete’s experience will change from childhood to adolescence.
  • More than just letting them play: Parental influence on women's lifetime sport involvement (PDF  - 213 KB), Dixon M, Warner S and Bruening J, Sociology of Sport Journal, Volume 25(4), (2008). This qualitative study examines both the proximal and distal impact of early family socialisation on long-term participation of females in sport. Female children and adolescents identified three general mechanisms of sport socialisation: (1) role modeling, principally from parental behaviour; (2) parents providing experiences and opportunities, and; (3) parents interpreting the value of sport experiences. Although the influence of socialising agents at different life stages seems to vary, there is some support for the idea that early parental socialisation may have an impact on a child’s behaviour later in life, at least until college age.
  • The motivational atmosphere in youth sport: coach, parent, and peer influences on motivation in specializing sport participants (PDF  - 263 KB), Keegan R, Spray C, Harwood C, and Lavallee D, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Volume 22(1), (2010). This research helps to delineate the roles for social agents (i.e. coaches, parents, peers) in influencing athletes motivations. Parents were influential in these roles: (1) support and facilitating opportunities, (2) developing an athlete’s competence, (3) the act of watching or being a spectator was seen as motivationally relevant.
  • Parental behaviors in team sports: how do female athletes want parents to behave? (PDF  - 118 KB), Knight C, Neely K and Holt N, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology Volume 23(1), (2011). This research suggests that adolescent female athletes prefer that their parents display supportive behavior before games; encouraging behavior during competition; and feedback after competition.
  • Parental involvement in competitive youth sport settings, Holt, N, Tamminen K, Black D, Sehn Z, and Wall, M, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 9(5), (2008). Parents’ verbal reactions to their children’s sport performance behaviors were placed on a continuum from supportive to controlling. This research suggests that parents are often unaware of the impact their behavior has on their children and their subsequent sport participation.
  • Parenting in Sport, Harwood C and Knight C, Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, Volume 5(2), Special Issue (2016). Sport psychology has reflected a growing interest in parental involvement in sport; researchers have taken child- and coach-centric perspectives to investigate both the antecedents and consequences of parental involvement. This issue of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology looks at both the positive and negative effects of parental influence, through their practices, behaviours, and parenting styles.
  • Parenting in youth tennis: understanding and enhancing children's experiences, Knight C and Holt N, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 15(2), (2014). The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory of optimal parental involvement in youth tennis. The theory was built around a core understanding of how to enhance a child's tennis journey. This was underpinned by three parental behaviours: (1) share and communicate goals, which referred to the need for parents and children to have the same aims for the child's tennis involvement; (2) develop an understanding emotional climate, which accounted for the need for parents to continually seek to foster an environment in which children perceived parents understand their experience, and; (3) engage in enhancing parenting practices at competitions, which denoted the specific behaviors parents should display in relation to competitive tennis. The theory predicts that consistency between goals, emotional climate, and parenting practices will optimise parenting behaviour in youth tennis.
  • Parents Behaving Badly? The relationship between the sportsmanship behaviors of adults and athletes in youth basketball games,  Arthur-Banning S, Wells M, Baker B, Hegreness R, Journal of Sport Behavior, Volume 32(1), (2009). This research suggest that positive parental behavior at basketball games predicted positive behavior by players. Similarly, negative behavior by parents encouraged negative behavior by the players.
  • Parents in youth sport: what happens after the game?, Elliott S and Drummond M, Sport, Education and Society, (6 May 2015). While parents possess a great potential to positively influence the sport experience of their child, they can also exert a considerable negative influence by engaging in a range of inappropriate behaviours. This study captured qualitative data from focus groups and individual interviews of 86 parents and children involved in junior Australian football. This research reveals an aspect of the sport-parenting role which can further enhance or undermine the youth sport experience. Specifically, it was found that children prefer different types of parental involvement before, during, and after competitive sport. This can provide insight into the way that parents engage in ‘debriefing’ children's performances to engender a positive and supportive influence. While the concept of sport-parenting receives much attention within the competitive setting, much can be learnt from exploring ‘what happens after the game’.
  • The Relevance of sporting role models in the lives of adolescent girls (PDF  - 88 KB). Vescio J, Crosswhite J, Wilde K, Paper submitted to the ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, (Revised November 2003). This paper challenges the idea that elite athletes are relevant role models for all teenage girls. Results showed that a relatively small percentage of girls perceived a sports person to be their role model, with a large percentage of girls nominating a family member or friend as their role model.
  • Role model, hero or champion? Children's views concerning role models. Bricheno, P. and Thornton, M.E., Educational Research, Volume 49(4), pp.383-396, (2007). This study asked children, aged from 10 to 16 years, from four English schools in different socio-economic environments, about their role models, and about what they regarded as important attributes for a role model. The responses indicated that both girls and boys named relatives as most important role models more often than they named anyone else. In second ranking, girls named friends and boys named footballers. Overall, 31.7% of pupils chose one or both parents as their most important role model.
  • Select your parents with care! – The role of parents in the recruitment and development of athletes, Ronbeck N and Vikander N, Acta Kinesiologiae Universitatis Tartuensis, Volume 15 (2010). The authors explore the question – ‘to what degree and in which ways do parents influence their children in the development of talent through their socio-cultural contributions’. The absolutely fundamental condition for athlete development is exposure to the athletic setting; and this takes place in a social context composed of the family and the child participant. If parents present themselves as good role-models, then children prefer to identify with them.
  • Winning vs. participation in youth sports: Kids' values and their perception of their parents' attitudes, Meisterjahn R and Dieffenbach, K, Journal of Youth Sports, Volume 4(1), (2008). Young athletes report that their own values are strongly correlated with their perception of their parents' attitudes. No significant age or gender group differences were found.

resources iconResources 

  • Let Kids be Kids mini-course, Play by the Rules, (accessed 22 May 2019). No sport is immune from poor adult behaviour. Poor behaviour can have a serious impact on kids enjoyment of sport and their future participation. This free mini-course is a step you can take to help you understand and address poor behaviour. You will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. 
  • Parents Guide to Clean Sport mini-coursePlay by the Rules/ASADA/WADA, (2019). At the conclusion of this mini-course you will have a better understanding of the important role you play in teaching your children respect for and appreciation of the true spirit of sport, and be able to inform your children about how to protect themselves in their sport career in relation to performance enhancing drugs and drug use.
  • Tips for ParentsPlay by the Rules. (accessed 22 May 2019). Parents can help create a positive sporting environment and reduce sport rage by being good role models. First, watch the short video from ABC journalist and sports coach Paul Kennedy who produced a series of videos for Play by the Rules on tips for parents, coaches, administrators and officials. In this first video Paul talks about setting a positive team environment. 
  • True SportWestern Australian Department of Local Government, Sport & Cultural Industries, (2018). True Sport is an advocacy campaign that supports local sporting clubs and associations to promote eight values that represent the benefits of sport and recreation to our whole community. The eight values are: Play fair; Give back; Have fun; Include all; Be healthy; Be safe; Show respect; and Bring your best. By embracing these values, teams, clubs, participants and officials can work together to create fun, fair and safe environments for one and all to participate in sporting activities. 

Video iconClearinghouse videos

  • Supporting our Sideline Champions, Megan Fritsch, Personal Excellence, AIS and Daniel Josifovski, Athletes, Coaching and Leadership, AIS, Winning Pathways Workshop, GIO Stadium, Canberra (14 December 2017) 

Video iconOther Videos

 

Parent-coach interaction

Fist bump

The coach is in a powerful position to influence parental behaviors as well as shaping their attitudes about support for their child’s sporting involvement. The nature of parent-coach interactions can also have a great impact on the coach’s effectiveness. Coaches often set ground rules to provide clarity regarding the behaviours and standards expected from the parents of the athletes in their coaching program. Many organisations have formally developed parent codes of conduct and standards of behaviour documents.

Increasingly a ‘partnership philosophy’ is being adopted by coaches who see sporting parents not as adversaries, but as important partners in the development of a child’s sporting potential.

For example, coaches may enlist the services of parents to complete tasks when they attend training or competitions, such as scoring, being team manager, keeping statistics, umpiring, or looking after equipment. This allows the parent to be involved in the coach’s program and develop a sense of ownership.

Parents are also ideally placed to develop the ‘person’ behind the athlete. That is, parents have a significant impact on how their child develops important life skills, such as time management, work ethic, sleep management, and personal values such as honesty, integrity, humility and discipline.

Parents are also less likely to intervene in a negative way if they believe that their child is in the hands of a knowledgeable coach. Factors such as experience, the coach's ability to communicate, qualifications, and providing a well-structured training environment help to demonstrate to parents that their child is well supervised.

Coaching education programs encourage the practice of developing effective communication strategies to keep parents informed about their child’s sporting progress. Communication based upon an honest, open relationship between the coach and sporting parents generally produces greater support for the coach’s program from parents. Supportive behaviours by parents also enhances their child’s participation experience.

A number of coaching resources deal with coach-parent communications and most coach education and training courses contain useful information on how coaches can effectively bring parents into the sporting environment and use them as a supporting influence.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

books iconBooks

Finder iconPrograms

  • Working with parents in sport is a UK based company that works with sporting organisations globally [including Little Athletics NSW], providing unbiased information that understands the difficulties that parents and coaches face in today's world. They support parents and coaches in working together to provide children wit the best possible sporting experiences.  

ReadingReading

  • How I stopped 'dealing' with parents, Nate Sanderson, Breakthrough Basketball, (2016). Rooted in fear of conflict and confrontation, we negotiate parent interactions like tiptoeing through a mine field hoping to spend as little time as possible desperately trying to avoid an explosion.  At the end of the day, we signed up to coach a sport, not to deal with parents. In thinking about this, I began to wonder how much this approach to the parent-coach dynamic prevented me from forming positive, constructive relationships with the people who influence our players as much as anyone.
  • Dealing with parents: promoting dialogue, McLean K, Sports Coach, Volume 30(1), (2008). This article presents the findings of research into the characteristics of supportive parental roles and gives practical recommendations for developing functional parent-coach relationships.   
  • Engaging Parents in the Athletic Development Process, Sean Higgins, Ski Racing Premium, (8 March 2018). It’s hard to downplay the importance of the athlete-parent relationship when you’re talking about athlete development. Quite simply, it’s everything. You’d be hard pressed to find an athlete who has enjoyed any amount of success that did not have some sort of parental figure — be it a mom, dad, grandparent, or other individual– involved in their athletic development.
  • Nurturing a child's sporting developmentSport Australia, (accessed 23 May 2019). Top 10 tips designed to help nurture and support a child's sporting development. Includes some suggested ways in which parents and carers can actively help children develop a variety of skills for life-long sport and physical activity engagement. For a positive, fun and nurturing experience of sport, individuals must remain positive, regardless of the result, and stay realistic in their shared expectations to avoid putting pressure on the child. You can greatly assist a child’s development by providing a strong and positive role model and upholding integrity and respect. 
  • Sport Parenting – The performance partnership, Goldsmith W, (2015). The sporting parent has some important responsibilities within the performance partnership between coach, athlete and parent. A sporting parent, for example, is responsible for helping their child to develop values like honesty, integrity, humility, courage and discipline. A sporting parent can also help their child develop valuable life skills that will help them cope with the demands of sport – time management, getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, and balancing school work and personal relationships. Most importantly, a sporting parent can provide the one thing that no one else can – unconditional love and support.
  • Straight talk about children and sport: advice for parents, coaches and teachers (PDF < - 8.4 MB), Coaching Association of Canada (1996). This publication provides important information about the early developmental needs of young children in organised sport. It focuses on children between the ages of six and 12 years, a time when they are most likely to be introduced to sport.

Research iconResearch

  • Athletes' perception of parental support and its influence on sports accomplishments: A retrospective study, Siekańska M, Human Movement, Volume 13(4), (2012). This study looked at family environmental factors and their affect upon different levels of sport accomplishment; low, medium or high. The study concluded that from a practical perspective, the family environment may be the most important social dimensions affecting a young athlete. These conclusions were presented from the analysis:
    • Significantly more high achievers came from a ‘child oriented’ family environment.
    • Compared to low achievers, high achievers perceived their parents as more involved in their own sport participation and in sports in general.
    • From the perspective of a parent, it is difficult to recognise the subtle and thin line between supporting and pressuring a child.
    • As coaches are ‘task leaders’ and parents serve to provide ‘socio-emotional leadership’, the interaction between coach and parents is important to an athlete’s success. Increased coach-parent cooperation that includes open communication was seen as beneficial.
  • Enhancing Coach-Parent Relationships in Youth Sports: Increasing Harmony and Minimizing Hassle (PDF  - 262 KB), Smoll F, Cumming S, and Smith R, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, Volume 6(1), (2011). The athlete-coach-parent relationship will have a significant impact on outcomes achieved in sport. The objective of the article is to identify goals for youth sport, parental responsibilities and challenges, and the communication necessary between coach and parents.
  • Examining expert coaches’ views of parent roles in 10-and-under tennis (abstract), Gould D, Pierce S, Wright E, Lauer L and Nalepa J, Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, Volume 5(2), (2016). 14 of the most experienced and successful under 10 age-group coaches in the U.S. took part in a series of focus groups to discuss the challenges facing coaches working with parents of players in this age-group. Results revealed that coaches viewed parents as challenging when they did not understand or ‘buy into’ the coach’s long-term developmentally approach, or when they were driven by the need for their child’s immediate success. Coaches believed that parents should adopt a supporter/facilitator versus coaching/parenting role and work to enhance a positive parent–child relationship. Advice and recommendations to the parents included embracing the ‘journey’ of long-term athlete development, using tennis-related communication and feedback, and finding ways to connect with the culture of tennis.
  • Parenting in youth tennis: understanding and enhancing children's experiences, Knight C and Holt N, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 15(2), (2014). The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory of optimal parental involvement in youth tennis. The theory was built around a core understanding of how to enhance a child's tennis journey. This was underpinned by three parental behaviours: (1) share and communicate goals, which referred to the need for parents and children to have the same aims for the child's tennis involvement; (2) develop an understanding emotional climate, which accounted for the need for parents to continually seek to foster an environment in which children perceived parents understand their experience, and; (3) engage in enhancing parenting practices at competitions, which denoted the specific behaviors parents should display in relation to competitive tennis. The theory predicts that consistency between goals, emotional climate, and parenting practices will optimise parenting behaviour in youth tennis.
  • The role of municipal park and recreation agencies in enacting coach and parent training in a loosely coupled youth sport system, Barcelona R and Young S, Managing Leisure, Volume 15 (July 2010). The research reveals that municipal agencies delivering youth sport programs provide mandatory coach training. However, no such relationship exists with parent training. Parents are often recruited to act as facilitators in sports programs and by implementing training they could achieve more consistent relationships with coaches.
  • Why do children take part in, and remain involved in sport? a literature review and discussion of implications for coaches, Bailey R, Cope E and Pearce G, International Journal of Coaching Science, Volume 7(1), (2013). This review found that children’s participation in sport is mediated by five primary factors: (1) perception of competence; (2) fun and enjoyment; (3) parents; (4) learning new skills; and (5) friends and peers. These findings suggest that, in addition to the generally acknowledged psychological factors, the social-cultural context in which children play influences their motivations to participate.

resources iconResources

  • A parent’s guide to effective coaching (PDF  - 2.0 MB), Sports Coach UK (2010). This publication identifies a number of ways that parents and coaches can communicate more effectively.
  • Guide to engaging parents, Connect2Sport, (accessed 24 May 2019). This web-based Guide provides sport organisations with practical tips and tools to better engage parents of diverse young people. One of these tools is our Parents Guide to Sport which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of sport and recreation and ways to get your child involved.
  • Let Kids be Kids mini-course, Play by the Rules, (accessed 22 May 2019). No sport is immune from poor adult behaviour. Poor behaviour can have a serious impact on kids enjoyment of sport and their future participation. This free mini-course is a step you can take to help you understand and address poor behaviour. You will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. 
  • True SportWestern Australian Department of Local Government, Sport & Cultural Industries, (2018). True Sport is an advocacy campaign that supports local sporting clubs and associations to promote eight values that represent the benefits of sport and recreation to our whole community. The eight values are: Play fair; Give back; Have fun; Include all; Be healthy; Be safe; Show respect; and Bring your best. By embracing these values, teams, clubs, participants and officials can work together to create fun, fair and safe environments for one and all to participate in sporting activities.

Video iconClearinghouse videos

Video iconOther Videos

Parents as coach

coach talking to young players

Sometimes, due to a range of circumstances, parents may find themselves accepting a role as a parent-coach, i.e. performing a coaching role which includes directly coaching their own child. Typically these situations occur when a team or club does not have a coaching staff and mum or dad is asked to step-in and help by coaching.

How does the dual role of a parent and a parent-coach influence the relationship between the parent-coach and child, both positively and negatively? Research into these relationships generally indicates that athletes are more open to parent-coach feedback during their younger years, but become more resistant during adolescence. In some studies it has been noted that daughters viewed expectations from their father-coach as pressuring, whereas sons viewed expectations from their father-coach as recognising their competence.

Parents who coach their children, particularly at a high performance level, have the difficult task of remaining supportive as parents, while providing independent and objective coaching services as well as motivation and guidance as coaches.

Studies on boys who were coached by their father identified these positive factors: perks and praise, additional technical instruction, a greater understanding of ability level, insider information, and quality time together. Numerous studies have also identified these negative aspects of the relationship: negative emotional responses from one’s father, pressure from expectations, lack of empathy, and excessive criticism for mistakes.

More information on coaching can be found in the Clearinghouse topics, Community Sport Coaching and Volunteers in Sport.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

ReadingReading

  • Coaching your own child (PDF  - 77 KB), Thompson J, Positive Coaching Alliance (2011). Historically, young people have apprenticed with their parents’ business. Today there is little opportunity for this but coaching your own child can be a wonderful experience in working together. Many parents and children look back on their times together on a sports team as some of the best moments of their lives. Here are some tips for making that shared experience a positive one. 
  • Coaching your own child – The parent-coach, child-player relationship, The Coach Diary, (11 September 2014). As many as 90% of all community volunteer coaches are parents. A number of studies have looked at the parent-coach and child-player relationship, with this research showing both positive and negative results. This article presents a number discussion points that a parent and their child should consider before a decision is made by the parent to coach his/her child. 
  • Parent coaches: a tough balancing act (PDF  - 559 KB), Cooke G, Sports Coach, Volume 30(2), (2008). This article provides tips for coaches whose squads include their own children.
  • Sport Parenting – The performance partnership, Goldsmith W, (2015). The sporting parent has some important responsibilities within the performance partnership between coach, athlete and parent. A sporting parent, for example, is responsible for helping their child to develop values like honesty, integrity, humility, courage and discipline. A sporting parent can also help their child develop valuable life skills that will help them cope with the demands of sport – time management, getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, and balancing school work and personal relationships. Most importantly, a sporting parent can provide the one thing that no one else can – unconditional love and support.

Research iconResearch

  • The parent-coach and child-athlete relationship in youth sport, Weiss M and Fretwell S, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Volume 76(3), (2005). The roles of coach and parent are often synonymous in youth sport, but little data-based research has been conducted on the parentcoach/child-athlete relationship. Six boys in U–12 competitive soccer were interviewed regarding positive and negative aspects about playing for their father-coach. Similar questions were posed to father-coaches and two teammates. Inductive content analysis indicated that, among the benefits, sons identified perks, praise, technical instruction, understanding of ability level, insider information, involvement in decision making, special attention, quality time, and motivation. Costs of being coached by one's father included negative emotional responses, pressure/expectations, conflict, lack of understanding/empathy, criticism for mistakes, and unfair behavior. For father-coaches, positive themes included taking pride in son's achievements, reason for coaching, positive social interactions, opportunity to teach skills and values, enjoying coaching son, and quality time. Negatives included inability to separate parent-child from coach-player role, placing greater expectations and pressure on son, and showing differential attention toward son. While teammates perceived some favoritism by the parent-coach, they cited mostly positive instructional experiences. 

resources iconResources

  • Let Kids be Kids mini-course, Play by the Rules, (accessed 22 May 2019). No sport is immune from poor adult behaviour. Poor behaviour can have a serious impact on kids enjoyment of sport and their future participation. This free mini-course is a step you can take to help you understand and address poor behaviour. You will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. 
  • Parents Guide to Clean Sport mini-coursePlay by the Rules/ASADA/WADA, (2019). At the conclusion of this mini-course you will have a better understanding of the important role you play in teaching your children respect for and appreciation of the true spirit of sport, and be able to inform your children about how to protect themselves in their sport career in relation to performance enhancing drugs and drug use.
  • True SportWestern Australian Department of Local Government, Sport & Cultural Industries, (2018). True Sport is an advocacy campaign that supports local sporting clubs and associations to promote eight values that represent the benefits of sport and recreation to our whole community. The eight values are: Play fair; Give back; Have fun; Include all; Be healthy; Be safe; Show respect; and Bring your best. By embracing these values, teams, clubs, participants and officials can work together to create fun, fair and safe environments for one and all to participate in sporting activities.  

Video iconClearinghouse videos

  • Supporting our Sideline Champions, Megan Fritsch, Personal Excellence, AIS and Daniel Josifovski, Athletes, Coaching and Leadership, AIS, Winning Pathways Workshop, GIO Stadium, Canberra (14 December 2017) 

Video iconOther Videos

Resources for organisations and parents

Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission)

Sport Australia collated a list of the top 10 tips for Nurturing a child's sporting development (accessed 23 May 2019). They recommend that for a positive, fun and nurturing experience of sport, individuals must remain positive, regardless of the result, and stay realistic in their shared expectations to avoid putting pressure on the child. You can greatly assist a child’s development by providing a strong and positive role model and upholding integrity and respect. 

Sport Australia also developed a series of ‘codes of behaviour’ that included a set of accepted behaviours for parents. Although these guidelines have been developed for junior sport, the principles of good behaviour apply across sport at all ages.

  • Junior Sport Codes of Behaviour (PDF  - 21 KB), Australian Sports Commission (2005). Guidelines are provided for parents, players, coaches, teachers, administrators, officials, media and spectators. 

Play by the Rules

Play by the Rules provides information, resources, tools and free online training to increase the capacity and capability of administrators, coaches, officials, players, parents and spectators to assist them in preventing and dealing with discrimination, harassment, child safety, inclusion and integrity issues in sport.
  • 7 ways how yelling at officials is hurting children, Play by the Rules (article adapted from ‘4 ways yelling at referees is hurting our children’, Switching the Field), (accessed 20 May 2019). Whether they are aware of it or not, the inappropriate actions of parents toward game officials may be harming their children. This article presents seven outcomes that may happen when parents are aggressive toward match officials: (1) children learn that mistakes are not okay; (2) they learn to make excuses; (3) they learn to give up when facing adversity; (4) they learn to disrespect authority; (5) they have a negative role model; (6) they learn to be rude, and (7) they learn to be selfish.
  • Let Kids Be Kids campaign and toolkit, Play by the Rules, (accessed 20 May 2019). The resources provide practical advice and steps to help sports groups stamp out poor sideline behaviour and encourage positive support from everyone involved. Resources include:
    • Understanding poor sideline behaviour provides background information and further research to understand the complex issue of poor sideline behaviour and the effect it can have on children in particular.  
    • What you can do - your toolkit provides a suite of resources which can be downloaded and adapted to individual organisational needs. These resources include: videos, banners and audio files; an infographic and article; policy templates and; posters. 
    • Videos from Usman Khawaja, Ellyse Perry,  Caitlin Thwaites, Sam Thaiday and Ange Postecoglou in support of the campaign which can be shared through organisational networks/websites. 
    • Case studies of real organisations have addressed issues of poor sideline behaviour. 
    • Let Kids be Kids mini-course. No sport is immune from poor adult behaviour. Poor behaviour can have a serious impact on kids enjoyment of sport and their future participation. This free mini-course is a step you can take to help you understand and address poor behaviour. You will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. 

Victoria

  • Fair Play Code: a code of conduct for sport and recreation in Victoria, Government of Victoria, Sport & Recreation Victoria, (April 2018). The Fair Play Code outlines the standards of behaviour expected for everyone involved in sport and recreation in Victoria. It also features new  guidance on the responsibilities of those involved in sport and recreation (including spectators), dealing with potential breaches and where to seek further information. Victoria’s sporting associations are required to adhere to and enforce the new Fair Play Code to receive funding from Sport and Recreation Victoria from 1 July 2018.

Western Australia

  • Active Parent education kit (PDF  - 2.9 MB), Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation, (2010?). This resource provides parents with information so they can optimise their child’s sport and recreation experience. Currently there are nine information sheets within the kit, they have been developed by the Department of Sport and Recreation in Western Australia. The topics include: (1) benefits of physical activity for children, (2) value of sport and recreation, (3) active kids at different ages, (4) preventing teen drop out, (5) inclusion of children with disabilities, (6) inclusion of children from CaLD and Indigenous backgrounds, (7) parent role on game day, (8) harassment-free sport and recreation, and (9) volunteering.
  • Nature Play WA. This program was developed by the Government of Western Australia as a way to get young children outdoors and active. Programs involve engagement with parents, resources include the ‘Family Nature Clubs Tool Kit’ that is designed to provide inspiration, information, and tips for those who are interested in more family time spent in the outdoors. Ideas are drawn from what other families have done and learned and participants are also encouraged to develop and use their own ideas. The Queensland Government, Nature Play QLD and the ACT Government, Nature Play Canberra, have also adopted the program philosophy.    

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  • Surfing Australia – Surf Groms program, parents’ page, (accessed 24 May 2019). 

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International practice

Long-Term Athlete Development, information for parents (PDF - 927 KB), National Coaching Certification Program, (2012). Doing what is best for your child is what Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is all about, and Canadian sport is working hard to develop LTAD plans for all sports. What those plans tell us is that early specialization, and early intense training in most sports, doesn’t help the child develop to be the best they could possibly be. The evidence is that too much early specialization actually prevents children from developing to their full potential.

Tips for Parents, Canadian Sport for Life, (accessed 22 May 2019). Canadian Sport for Life have published a series of tips for parents that may help them support their child’s sport and physical activity experience.

Summary of Information to Parents, Canadian Sport for Life, (2012). This one-page summary of the Canadian LTAD model helps parents to understand the long-term nature of athlete development. It contains testimonials from age-group athletes about their experiences.

For ParentsSport & Recreation New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2019). This section of the sport New Zealand website lists activities and resources that parents can use to help their children develop skill and enjoy sport participation.

Families Fund, Sport England (2017). Sport England has introduced a Families Fund to achieve outcomes set out in the government’s Sporting Future strategy. As part of Sport England’s investment in sport, the Families Fund will provide support for families, particularly low income families, to become engaged in sport activities. By encouraging parents to be active (i.e. through sport and physical activity) with their children, this program seeks to: (1) provide positive support and encouragement for parents to be active; (2) model active behaviours of parents, so their children will see this as the norm, and; (3) facilitate access to new opportunities for families to be active.

Understanding participation in sport: what determines sport participation among lone parents? (PDF  - 430 KB), Sport England report (2006). The demands of being a lone parent means that a child’s participation in sport is made more difficult because of additional barriers such as transport, cost, and availability of childcare facilities for siblings.

Changing the Game in Youth Sports Project, (accessed 22 May 2019). The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to ensure that youth sports in the United States becomes more child centred. Because parents and other adults are so influential, this project provides the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children, and their whole family. Parenting and coaching young athletes is an art, not a science, and the information provided can help adults make better decisions. 

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