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

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7 Do active parents have active children?

Reinforcing the suggestion that active parents have active children, in an online interview Olympic triathlete Alistair Brownlee describes his childhood as extremely active. Both his mother and father were very sporty and involved both him and his brother (also an Olympic triathlete) in their active lifestyle, introducing them to running, swimming and cycling:

Your parents control everything really. They control whether they take you swimming, or running, or take you out on your bike or whatever.

(The Open University, 2011)

In a longitudinal study by Moore et al. (1991) and which used an accelerometer (electronic device which measures the amount and intensity of movement) to assess physical activity levels in 100 4- to 7-year-olds and their parents, it was found that children of active mothers were twice as likely to be active as children of inactive mothers. Similarly, children of active fathers were 3.5 more times as likely to be active as those with inactive fathers. When both parents were active, the children were 5.8 times as likely to be active as children of two inactive parents. The study revealed that possible mechanisms for the relationship between parents’ and child’s activity levels included:

  • the parents’ serving as role models
  • sharing of activities by family members
  • enhancement and support by active parents of their child’s participation in physical activity
  • genetically determined factors that predispose the child to increased levels of physical activity.

The final point is an interesting one: research conducted by Wolfarth et al. (2005) identified potential genes for physical activity behaviours and characteristics. If we look at Alistair Brownlee, his parents appear to have implemented the first three mechanisms identified by Moore et al. (1991), although it is difficult to comment on the last point. Referring back to the data on gender, some studies have also indicated that parental participation is particularly important for daughters (Fredericks and Eccles, 2004).

Activity 6 An evening with the Murrays

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Listen to the following radio programme in which Andy Murray, his mother Judy and brother Jamie discuss family life and sport, then answer the following questions.

  1. How can Eccles’ expectancy-value theory (discussed in Activity 3) be applied to Judy’s role in Andy and Jamie’s participation in tennis?
  2. In what way did Judy act as a role model for Andy and Jamie?
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An evening with the Murrays
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  1. Expectancy-value theory states that if a parent values sport as an important achievement domain then they will provide more frequent opportunities for their child to participate in sport activities. Judy came from a sporting family herself and grew up playing sport, therefore she valued sport as a domain and wanted her children to value and enjoy it too, and so provided lots of opportunities for them. This didn’t always involve organised sport and could be simply playing games with them in the house and garden to get them active.
  2. Judy Murray modelled a sporting environment for the boys, encouraging them to experience a range of activities. The Murrays lived close to a tennis club and Judy was a volunteer coach there so the boys got used to being around tennis. This could be seen as role modelling. We could take this a step further and look at sibling relationships with Jamie also acting as a role model for Andy.