I cannot find a way or justify talking about parents in a sporting academy without discussing how they are part of dynamic interaction.
Optimal parental involvement in sport will be different for all parents because young athletes all have different needs, parents arrive with different experiences, and parents and young athletes will encounter different situations throughout a sporting journey.
The first step to optimal parent involvement in sport is understanding where both fit into the environment and the affect they can have on these dynamic interactions.
Ivarsson et al (2015) evidenced the ‘value of collaboration and harmony between environments are key to athletes’ development, such as the club, school and home environments maintaining similar values to provide security for athlete development’. The importance of shared values and consistent messaging is important in any young players journey.
Similarly, the extent to which environments support athlete potential and retention in elite level performance. Social factors range from friends, family, coaches, gender, ethnicity identity, religion, school and many more become key aspects of the social psychological and moral development of young people, which underpins the notion of identity formation (Hendry et al., 1996).
Sport is a well-known vehicle for simulation of these aspects through the socialisation process (Kirk and MacPhail, 2003), it was noted that young people with low social capital are less likely to participate in sport as they become adults (Swain, 2002).
This creation of identity and cultural capital within education, coupled with sport as a requirement for lifelong participation, has significant implications on models of our participation, development and sports policy at all levels.
Therefore, it is clear sports participation has a positive influence in many areas. It supports positive mental health and improves social skills along with promoting physical health (Allender, Cowburn and Foster, 2006).
We often discuss in this blog about the importance of using sport to equip our children with these other skills as part of the journey which will have such a positive impact on them both in and away from their sporting endeavours.
The development of such an identity is achieved through the interaction of key variables including gender, family, schooling and peers; with considerable evidence that parents have significant effects on their child participation and development in sports. Parents have and will continue to have the most influence on their children and have a key role to play in this.
For example, James (2001) noted that children aged between five and nine years, fathers were the most influential socialising agent by introducing children to sports teams.
This has been broadened further by Whannel (1999; 2005), who asserts that the inherent hegemonic masculinity of sport naturally leads to a ‘father-son’ relationship in sporting interest and ultimately sports participation. Consequently, families are identified as the first point of socialisation into sport, and ultimately into society. Indeed, this is a key under pinning aspect to the entire sport experience of young people.
Additionally, positive parental influences can come from good role modelling (Toms & Fleming, 1995), providing opportunities like money or travel (Kirk et al., 1997) and positive reinforcement of psychological support (Carr et al., 1999).
In contrast, there is also evidence that pushy or disinterested parents can also have a rather large negative effect. When incorporated strategically, parents and siblings can play a very important and beneficial role in talent development. Indeed, it is coaches own professional judgment and decision making that are key when identifying where such role may be positive or negative (Martindale et al., 2005).
There is little doubt that both gender and ethnicity are vitally important in the participation process. In a study on adolescent physical activity behaviour in New Zealand, gender differences were found with boys playing more sport than girls.
The study also highlighted that the existing gender stereotypes within gender appropriate sports were perpetuated (Dovey et al., 1998). There are also gender differences in the use of sport in young people’s lives, in which Frydenberg and Lewis’ (1993) research identified that when coping with stress and change young males tend to turn towards sports as a means of escape, while their female counterparts turned to their friends and peers.
Perhaps then, it is not just gender that is key here but also expected social roles. Willming and Gibson’s (2000) feminist empirical work on family life in the late 1990’s highlights some of the key issues for women in leisure, not only does it acknowledge many women suffer from role overload through their diverse maternal, domestic and employment responsibilities but also how the traditional patriarchal family unit affects women sports.
This new understanding should help parents improve their collaborations with coaches and have a better understanding of the impact environmental factors can have on their child’s development, which is rarely within the parent’s personal control.
Therefore, knowing the ability of their child’s adaption to unexpected environmental changes is often an indication of success. It may be that this is an aspect of being talented that can be identified by observing a child’s temperament and how they manage stressful situations (Wilkinson and Ellis, 2014). Indeed, research has shown intense training rather than innate abilities better account for skill differences between expert and non-expert performers (Baker et al., 2003).
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Stuart Wilkinson was the first Professional Rugby Leagues Head of Youth Performance with Leeds Rhinos in 1999. He has also been an international Coach of Great Britain Academy, England, Wales, France, Russia & Serbia. Currently, he is the Salford Red Devils reserve team coach.
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