Physical activity: a family affair
Physical activity: a family affair

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Physical activity: a family affair

5 How important is the family environment?

Activity 3 illustrates the potential influence that parents have over their child’s recreational activities, and we must therefore consider what factors contribute to parental beliefs and motivations as regards physical activity. To help answer this question we can look at research into family characteristics. Bailey and Morley (2006, p. 20) reviewed a range of literature in this area and found that particular family characteristics strongly support participation in youth sport. These are:

  • Parents achieved high standards within sport;
  • Parents are of relatively high socio-economic status;
  • Parents possess the ability and willingness to support the child financially;
  • Parents are willing to dedicate large amounts of their own time to support the child’s participation in an activity;
  • The parents own a car;
  • The family size is relatively small;
  • There are two parents;
  • The child attends an independent school.

This research suggests that although the parents’ willingness to invest time in their child’s activities is a contributor, there are other factors that may be beyond the parents’ control, such as owning a car or being able to offer financial support. In addition, Porter (2000) found that parents are more supportive of activities that are easy to access, a safe play environment, good ‘drop-off’ arrangements and where activities are available to other members of the family, therefore convenience may also play a part. The point regarding family size is interesting; consider how this impacts on parents’ time and money if they have five children all wanting to participate in different activities, as opposed to those parents who can invest all their time and money in one child. Studies in developed nations generally indicate that elite athletes are more likely to come from middle- or upper-class families (Fraser-Thomas and Côté, 2006).

Activity 4 uses a case study to which we can apply Bailey and Morley’s findings. In the video we meet two boys who go on to compete at the Irish Dancing World Championships. We will return to this video and the story of the two boys throughout this study topic.

Activity 4 The Great Irish Dance Off

Allow about 30 minutes

Watch the video clip ‘The Great Irish Dance Off’, which follows two Irish dancers on their journey to the World Championships, then answer the following questions.

  1. Compare the family characteristics of the two dancers to the eight characteristics listed above. Do they support Bailey and Morley’s findings?
  2. Do you feel that some of the eight criteria are more important than others? Go to the tutor group forum and rank the criteria you feel are the three most important, stating reasons for your answer.
Download this video clip.
Skip transcript: The Great Irish Dance Off

Transcript: The Great Irish Dance Off

JOHN
I'm John, and I'm 10. And I've got five brothers. And I'm the only one who dances. And this year I'm going for Worlds for my very first time. Stepbrother's called Lee. And my brothers are-- the oldest is Dean. Ashley. And then it's me. And then it's Thomas. And then it's James. I like dancing 10 out of 10. And football about 2 out of 10.
JOHN'S MOTHER
We're not Irish. We don't know Irish dancing. And we went to a Feis. And we walked in. And it was like a Shirley Temple convention, wasn't it? There was teenagers and youngsters then that got the wigs on and really brown legs. Really made up faces. And then these wigs and it was like-- you just find yourself staring at people for a very long time, thinking, I'm glad I've got a boy.
JOHN CAREY
Point two, three, four. Squeeze and point. Tent your legs. Darcy, you're not pointing toes to the back. Ellie, you're not pointing toes to the back! Faye, you're not even listening! One, two, three!
JOHN
There's quite a lot of people who tease me and call me names. But I just ignore them and walk away. Because they don't know what they're talking about.
JOHN'S FATHER
It's not as bad as it used to be. It used to be terrible out there. People would be-- John says, he's called me gay and that lot. We used to say, just take no notice. Just go and show them what you can do.
JOHN'S MOTHER
As a parent, you want to go out there and you want to say to them, don't call him gay. Michael Flatley's not gay. But then you have to stop yourself because...
JOHN'S FATHER
That's Monday. I tend to go out there and throw wobblies.
JOHN CAREY
Lift! Lift! Put your elbows in! Step, two, three! Two, two, three! Three, two, three, and four! Hop and jump! Hop! Jump!
JOHN
It's the rhythm and the music. And the shoes. I like the shoes.
JOHN CAREY
One, two, three, four, tuck, kick, down!
When he first learned his sevens, which is one of the first things you learn, he was up on his toes like this. And I was like, oh god. He's going to be good.
Go! Stretch and one, two! Up, kick, down! Watch your arms John!
If John was at class four or five times a week like the rest of his competition probably are, then I'm sure he would be pretty much unbeatable. But unfortunately, one of five, they're all playing football, going in different directions. And dancing is expensive.
JOHN'S MOTHER
My wages basically pay for John's dancing. I go away and freeze and everything come weekends with the TA. And at the back of me mind, I'm thinking, this is for John.
JOHN CAREY
Up is down. Up is down. Now tense your body. And kick, two, three. And up and a one, two, stretch. Now right up! Push! Kick down. That's better. And you're up, upper back, upper stamp, up. Three clicks. One, two. Straight legs. Stretch. Push. Up! Kick down. Stamp point, stamp point. Tense. Pull in here. Five, six, seven.
When he hits it, and when he's on form, I think he's probably unbeatable.
And a one, two, stretch, two, three, four. And a one, two, stretch, two, three, push! Now really stretch it out, out, out! Yeah, that was better.
JOHN
I've been making silly mistakes in stopping, but hopefully this year it will all go.
JOHN CAREY
He just tends to forget things and do something silly, or just stop eight bars before the end. And I'll say, what were you thinking? I don't know. I forgot.
Right. Who's next? Mitch?
JOHN'S MOTHER
How are your blisters?
JOHN
They're OK.
JOHN'S MOTHER
Have you still got your plasters on.
JOHN
Yeah.
JOHN CAREY
It is frustrating, because he could be so good. I think he's got the potential to win Worlds, definitely. He's a completely different dancer to Joe. He has to have something for a long time. And when it's polished, and when he knows it, and it's drilled right, it looks great. But then he might forget it anyway. Whereas Joe, even on his worst day, will never forget it. He'll never, ever stop.
JOHN
I'd like to dance like Joe Bitter. He's strong. He's confident. And I just love the way he dances.
JOHN CAREY
Stretch it out and three, four, up and down. And stretch, push, up, and down. Pull it back. Leg up. Shoulders back. Stretch. Stretch, two, three, four, up, and down. Stamp down. One, two, three, four, up and down. Stretch. Push up and down. Pull that back leg up!
And stretch. Stretch, two, three, four, up, and down. Push cross, cross, cross. Arms back. Arms, two, three, four. And a one, two, stretch. Push up! Kick them down. Stamp point. Point. Stretch those legs out. Feet, feet, feet. Kick em, kick em, one, two. Stretch, two, three, four, up. Shoulders John. Up, kick, and down, and stop there.
JOHN
John's my best dance teacher ever. He's really good at dancing as well. And he shouts. Not a lot, but he shouts. But not loud-- not that loud.
JOHN CAREY
Get the feet turned down, the toes pointed. Your heels will automatically hit. That's better. Now let's do it without the dodgy head. Two, three, go. Treble up and toe hop and step kick, kick, and down.
I am quite hard on him, but he can take it. He never cracks. He's very mm-hmm, OK, mm-hmm.
Getting strong on these treble backs. Treble and back, step, treble and down, treble and down, showing me the inside of your ankle, all the time. Arms tight. Five, six, seven, go. Bang, bang! Treble and back, step, treble-- no, come on. That's just step downs.
Now, let's concentrate. Treble and back, step, treble and cross, cross. Heel and toe, sharp, two, three, treble and toe, back. Treble up and back, stretch. Stretch it out, two, three. Push, push, push it right up. Now for the back. Treble and toe up and step, kick, kick, and down.
JOHN
If I don't come in the top 10 or a recall, I won't. It'll be OK. But it'll just show me that I haven't danced my best.
JOHN CAREY
Nowadays, because so many people want to win, there's a lot of people that probably don't have a lot of natural talent, but have just worked so damn hard at it that they're actually winning, because they're so technically correct. So people with natural talent now have to put the work in. There's no room for error now. You have to be foot perfect.
Out. In. Down. Right, left, right, right, out, in, down.
When I was growing up, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance didn't exist. So no one really knew about it. in England.
From there, you go out.
So I didn't really tell anybody at school that I did it. And then after I won the world championships, I think, I was on the news. And so I went in to school the next day, and I was walking around the corridor. It was like, I saw you on the news last night. And I was like, did you? It's like, I didn't know you did that dancing. I was like, oh, yeah, yeah..
JOE
I don't really talk about Irish dancing outside Irish dancing-- my mates from Irish dancing. It's just normally like football and American football.
JOHN CAREY
Working your arms, yes? Of course. Off you go.
Cross, over, over, over. Bring your arms back. Straighten this out. Tighten the hip. No gaps. Cross, cross, cross. The back foot, out more, out more Bring this arm in tighter. Cross. Treble, up and treble. Fast ones. Back foot. Left foot out. Left foot out.
He just has a complete understanding of every kind of rhythm that I throw at him. Even from a very, very young age, I was always giving him stuff way harder than other people his age.
One, two, three. Cross, cross, cross, cross. That's better. Good. Do that bit again. Up, kick, kick and toe. Right up, right back.
JOE'S MOTHER
Joe's desire to pursue dance was phenomenal. It was living and breathing dance for him. I-- it was like a snowball that I couldn't stop.
JOHN CAREY
Up. Kick. Kick and kick and toe. Cross! Back and cross. It wasn't too bad. This one's a little bit better.
Up, kick, kick and toe. Feet. And kick, kick, kick, and treble and back. That's better. Good. That looked much better.
JOE'S MOTHER
There was just that intensity about him. It's been seven hours in the living room, with the carpets rolled up and the furniture moved. And that reel would play over and over.
JOHN CAREY
[GIVING THE BEAT] And stop!
JOE'S FATHER
When he started out, he was like everybody else. Hop, two, three. But he won the first 17 events he entered. And he found out he was pretty good at this.
JOE'S MOTHER
We're a lot alike, Joe and I. So I think that there was a point in time when I realised I had to help him manage himself without being-- I couldn't push him. Let's put it that way. But in my own way, I orchestrated things, no doubt.
JOHN CAREY
I had heard rumours that this California boy was thinking about moving to England to dance. And I just thought it was a little bit crazy. But then dancing has grown so much that people take it so seriously. Even if there's no money involved, it is quite prestigious. And people want that world title.
JOE'S MOTHER
We are a little mad. So you hear about families who up and move to Florida when they have a good tennis player.
JOE'S FATHER
I had a very successful medical practise. I pretty much gave that up. I lived in a wonderful neighbourhood of 5 and 6 million pound houses. The weather here is certainly nothing compared to California.
JOE
I know, yeah and it's always raining in this country. God.
JOHN CAREY
Five, six, seven, heads! Move, two, three, four, five.
When Joe first arrived from America he was maybe spoiled. He was this amazing talent from when he was young, and everybody just told him how amazing he was all the time. It was like, you're brilliant, you're brilliant, you're brilliant.
And he was. He was very talented. And then he came to our class. And it was like, this is wrong. This is wrong. You're not doing this. You're not doing this. And I think it was a huge shock to his system. And I don't think he liked it very much.
And catch-- no, no, no, no, no.
JOE'S MOTHER
John Carey's just an amazing dancer and teacher, choreographer, you name it. He's won the Worlds eight times. And he's an incredible inspiration.
JOHN CAREY
Move! Move! Move!
JOE
I definitely have an ego in Irish dancing. When you're at the top, it's hard not to. When he tells me something, sometimes I'm a little iffy with my listening.
JOE'S MOTHER
It's interesting to see John and Joe dance together. Because I see this look in Joe's eyes, like yeah, I know you're better than me. And, give me time.
JOE
I just want to be one of the best's that ever danced. As good as John Carey is. I want to be known for doing the rhythm and having the set dance. And people will be like, oh, Joe Bitter, I remember him. He used to do those amazing set dances.

The Great Irish Dance Off video and transcript © Bankside Films

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Discussion

  1. John’s circumstances meet some but not all of the criteria. John has achieved high standards, although his coach states that, ‘If John was in his class four or five times a week like the rest of his competitors probably are then he would be unbeatable, unfortunately he is one of five, they’re all playing football and going in different directions, and Irish dancing is expensive’. Joe’s family appear to fit more of the criteria. They are from a higher socio-economic background, as his dad used to own a successful medical practice. He is an only child and the sole focus of his parent’s time and money; they even moved country to boost his chances of success. These differences in family circumstances are influential as John’s larger family means that he is given less chance to participate than Joe. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this has in terms of their success later on.
  2. Although John’s family do not meet as many of the criteria as Joe’s family, the boys are equally successful. This would suggest that perhaps some factors are more predictive of participation than others. Through contributing to the tutor group forum and responding to other postings you should engage in an extended discussion around this topic.

Certain sports appear to attract certain family characteristics. More than a third (37%) of British medal winners at the London 2012 Olympic Games were privately educated, with athletes from private schools dominating in rowing and equestrian events (Vasagar, 2012). However, Activity 4 illustrates that research can only tell part of a story and that there will always be exceptions to statistics such as these. Many athletes come from backgrounds in which family resources are limited. This suggests that although environmental factors can be influential, there are other contributing factors that are sometimes more important, such as attitudes and beliefs. It is to these psychological factors that we now turn.

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