Parenting in Sport

Chris Harwood, Sam Thrower

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


Parenting in its broadest sense refers to the caregiving processes and practices that parents engage with in relation to the nurturance and development of their child. The process of parenting typically lasts from infancy through into adulthood and is usually (although not always) conducted by the biological mother and/or father. Parenting practices tend to change over time and across contexts in accordance with their child’s age and developmental needs. Within the context of youth sport, parents typically fulfil a wide range of different roles and responsibilities. These roles include providing opportunities for their child to participate in sport, helping children to make sense of and interpret their experiences, and role modelling appropriate attitudes and behaviours (Fredricks & Eccles, 2004). As a result, parents play a crucial role in increasing the chances for their child to have a positive psychosocial experience, develop a range of positive developmental outcomes and to achieve their sporting potential (Harwood & Knight, 2015). When attempting to fulfil these roles, parents display different parenting styles and behaviours. Parenting style refers to the broad way in which a parent interacts with their child and reflects the parent’s attitude toward their child that creates an emotional climate in which the parent’s behaviours are expressed (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). For example, parents differ in the extent to which they show warmth, love and acceptance towards their child, provide structure and guidance and promote autonomous behaviors. There is a general consensus that more authoritative or autonomy-supportive parenting styles are associated with positive child outcomes in sport. However, within their general parenting approach, parents also display more specific parenting practices. These parenting practices are the goal directed behaviours and techniques though which parents perform their parenting responsibilities and duties (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Therefore, parenting styles represent parent-child interactions across a wide range of settings whilst parenting practices are context or domain specific (i.e., home, training, competition). The practices and behaviours that parents display in sport influence children’s experiences and perceptions of their own parents’ involvement (i.e., as supportive or pressurising). Supportive parenting can be broadly defined as “athletes’ perceptions of his or her parents’ behavior aimed at facilitating his or her involvement and participation in sport” (Leff and Hoyle, 1995, p.190). Supportive behaviours have been associated with a wide range of desirable child outcomes (e.g., positive sporting experiences, enjoyment, perceived competence, intrinsic motivation) and are critical to children’s sport participation and development. In contrast, parental pressure is considered as “behavior exhibited by a parent that is perceived by their child as indicating high, unlikely, or possibly unattainable expectations” (Leff and Hoyle, 1995, p.190). Such behaviors have been linked with a number of undesirable or negative child outcomes in sport including fear of failure, higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower confidence, poor sportspersonship, burnout, and dropout. There are numerous individual, relational and environmental factors that affect parenting styles and behaviours in sport and children’s overall perceptions of their parent’s involvement (Knight, Berrow & Harwood, 2017). For instance, characteristics such as gender, income, employment status, and number of children are all considered to impact on parenting in sport. In addition to this, individual parent’s goals and expectations for their child, knowledge and experience of the sport, and previous sport experience have all been shown to influence parental involvement. Furthermore, there is growing evidence to suggest that the quality of the relationship between parents and children plays a crucial role in influencing parents’ behaviour particularly during competitions. Beyond individual and relational factors, the culture of youth sport, the financial and time commitment, coaches and other parents have all been found to influence parenting in sport.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDictionary of Sport Psychology (1st Edition)
Subtitle of host publicationSport, Exercise, and Performing Arts
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2019

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