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

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4 Theoretical perspectives of participation

The majority of young children’s time is spent with family members, especially parents, and this is why the family is a vital social facilitator influencing the way a child thinks and behaves, and in particular the opportunities they are presented with. There are many groups and classes that young children can be introduced to but this is not a choice they are able to make themselves. It is the parents who decide whether they take their child to music classes, arts and crafts sessions or swimming lessons. It is the parents who decide whether the child is to stay indoors and watch television or be taken to the park for a more physical activity.

These decisions are informed by the parents’ own attitudes and beliefs, and it is these psychological factors that interest us most. Admittedly, social factors such as cost, local provision and proximity to amenities are also relevant; however, research in this area does indicate that the psychological climate created by parents influences a child’s participation in sport and physical activity, their experience of the activity and subsequently their continued participation (Partridge et al., 2008).

Activity 3 introduces you to the work of Jacquelynne Eccles. Eccles’ expectancy-value theory (Eccles et al., 1983; Eccles, 1993), which you will encounter in a moment, looks at parental influence on children’s motivation in achievement settings. Eccles’ theory is widely used in academic settings and has been applied to the sporting context to explain parental involvement.

Activity 3 Eccles’ expectancy-value theory

Timing: Allow about 60 minutes

Read the article ‘Theoretical perspectives: Eccles’ expectancy-value theory [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ (Partridge et al., 2008). Then answer the following questions.

  1. According to the expectancy-value theory, what are the different ways in which parents can influence their children’s participation in sport and physical activity?
  2. In particular, what is the relevance of gender to this discussion? Note that the latest gender research presented in the chapter dates from 2005. Do you feel that this research is still applicable today?  


  1. If a parent values sport as an important achievement domain then they will provide more frequent opportunities for their child to participate in sporting activities. Similarly, parents who believe that their child is likely to do well and achieve success in sport or who perceive their child to be competent at sport are more likely to provide support opportunities in that activity or domain. Children within the same family can be provided with different opportunities as parents can often form different beliefs about siblings.
  2. Research does indicate a ‘parental gender stereotype’, as parents are more likely to partake in sport and physical activity with their sons than their daughters, and are more likely to take their sons to sporting events. This can also be linked to parental beliefs of perceived competence, as often parents will view their sons as possessing a higher ability in sport. In addition, parents often attribute a higher value to participating in sport and physical activity for their sons than their daughters. As the latest research on gender cited by this article is dated 2005, it could be argued that with the progress of activities such as girls’ rugby and football, and with the Olympic medals won by female British athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games, that many of these stereotypical beliefs are starting to be re-shaped and that more recent research is needed.

Eccles’ theory explores the role of parents in providing opportunities for their children. In addition to Eccles’ work, Hellstedt (1987, 1995) looked at parental involvement in children’s sport participation, conceptualising involvement on a continuum from under-involved to over-involved. Hellstedt concluded that moderate parental involvement was in children’s best interest, emphasising fun and skills development. It is worth noting that neither theory considers the role that school sport may play in athletic development, and in some cases, even with minimal parental involvement or support, the school sport system may provide opportunities and support for athletic development.