Youth sport is part of the fabric of family life for many families. Parents are more intensely involve in contemporary youth sport than ever before. And while youth sport can provide a context for parent-child interaction and bonding, parents exert both positive and negative influences on their children in sport.
Parents help children understand and interpret their sport experiences, acting as role models of positive and negative behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. But being the parent of a young athlete is an intricate social experience that cannot merely be reduced to “good” or “bad” behaviours.
Youth sport event
In sport, parenting occurs in a complex social milieu, in which parents interact with other parents, coaches and children. Parents face complex demands that require a repertoire of skills to facilitate positive sport experiences for their children. Given these complexities, perhaps it is not surprising that coaches, sport organizations and even parents themselves have called for more parent education and support.
Parenting approaches can be thought of in two distinct but relate ways. First, there’s parenting style the broader emotional climate parents create. A parenting style that supports children’s autonomy is particularly effective for enhancing children’s motivation and experiences.
Such parents provide their children with options to choose and encourage children to solve problems on their own rather than controlling their children’s behaviours. They provide structure in the form of clear and consistent guidelines, boundaries and rules for their children’s behaviour. They are often highly involve in their children’s sport, but still foster a sense of children’s independence.
In addition to identifying the emotional climate that parents create with their parenting styles, sport researchers also consider parenting practices specific behaviours within a particular context, such as at a youth sport event. Specific parenting practices have with positive and negative outcomes among children.
Parents in junior tennis
For instance, in studies examining the role of parents in junior tennis using the perspectives of coaches, players and parents, parenting practices perceived to positively influence players’ development included the provision of unconditional love, logistical and financial support and parents holding children accountable for their on-court behaviour. Conversely, negative parenting practices include parents over emphasizing winning; so lacking emotional control and criticizing children.
Exemplary parents also build healthy relationships in the sporting milieu; which can involve supporting the coach and players on the team; so connecting with other parents and volunteering with the club. Finally, these parents were in tune with their own emotions, especially during and after competitions.
Parents are increasingly becoming aware of advice that children should sample a range of sports; so rather than specializing in a single sport. There is some evidence to support the benefits of sport sampling; also the risks of early specialization. However, in the larger goal of supporting healthy child and family development; so parents should be cautious about involving their children in too many sports.
Parents can create positive sporting experiences if they listen to their children; so understand their children’s goals for sport, consider how their parenting styles and practices support their children’s experiences, and build healthy relationships in the sporting milieu. But with this investment in sport, it is important to retain a sense of balance in children’s lives. Sport then becomes an enjoyable and rewarding feature of family life.