Therefore, we have put together, based upon research evidence over several decades, five top tips that you can implement as parents to encourage and support your child’s athletic development.
1) Provide a range of opportunities for your child
Parents should encourage their children to sample a range of fun and enjoyable sport activities throughout their childhood. As a parent, you are likely to be instrumental in providing such opportunities for your child. However, your decision of whether to provide or limit opportunities may be influenced by what you feel is important for your child and also what you feel your child will be successful in (Dixon et al., 2008). In addition, these value and beliefs about your child’s sporting experiences may be shaped by your own experiences of sport, by gender related issues, and by other social variables. Our top tip here is to provide as many opportunities for your child to engage with a variety of sports and to provide these opportunities based upon your child’s interests and enjoyment, avoiding any preconception about their ability.
2) Take an interest without obsession
Some parents are labelled as under involved and fail to provide the emotional, financial and functional support needed by their child. Such parents rarely attend events, hold little interest in their child’s achievements and often don’t value sport as important. In contrast, other parents can be overinvolved and are often ‘excessive’, unable to separate their own needs from those of their child. Our top tip is to try and avoid these two extremes by taking enough interest to be able to provide direction and help set realistic goals for your child without overpowering them, offering them appropriate support, and listening to the coach.
3) Create a positive motivational climate
It is important that children participate in sport for reasons such as enjoyment, interest and satisfaction as this type of self-determined behaviour is linked to greater persistence in sport (Quested & Duda, 2011). Many parents use extrinsic motivators to incentivise performance such as offering sweets or money for winning and this has been linked to increasing pressure and anxiety (Keegan et al., 2009) and can lead to dropout from sport (Fraser-Thomas et al., 2008).
A child’s experience of sport will also be shaped by the way in which their competence levels are measured.
For example, some parents value and praise winning and outperforming others (known as ego-involving or performance climate) whereas others value and praise their child’s effort and improvements (known as a task-involving, or mastery, climate). In youth sport research unambiguously expresses the benefits of a mastery climate (O’Rourke et al., 2014). Therefore, our top tip is to provide supportive feedback placing emphasis on your child’s personal progress rather than measuring them against the performance of others and to avoid the use of extrinsic motivators to encourage participation.
4) Be a role model
How you as a parent behave at sports events and how you interact with others such as coaches, fellow parents, and other young athletes all impact a child’s sport experience (Harwood et al., 2019). The main point here is to maintain control of your own emotions when watching your child play. Refrain from behaviours that attract attention such as arguing with coaches or officials or shouting at other players. We all want to show support for our children when they play but this will be different for each child, so our top tip here would be to talk to your child about how they want you to support them during competition.
5) Provide emotional support
The extent to which parents are able to understand both their own and their child’s emotions will influence the helpfulness of the interpretation of their child’s sporting experience (Harwood & Knight, 2015). For example, how a parent reacts or behaves in response to their child’s experiences, may influence the child’s interpretation of the experience as positive or negative. Therefore, talk to your child, listen to what they need and offer them the appropriate emotional support.
The research into parental influences suggests that although general recommendations can be made in terms of how to create the most positive environment for your child, each child is unique and brings their own personality to the situation. Therefore, parents should adopt an emotionally supportive approach to meet the individual needs of their child.
Dixon, M. A., Warner, S. M., & Bruening, J. E. (2008). More Than Just Letting Them Play: Parental Influence on Women's Lifetime Sport Involvement. Sociology of Sport Journal, 25(4), 538-559.
Fraser-Thomas, J., Côté, J., & Deakin, J. (2008). Understanding dropout and prolonged engagement in adolescent competitive sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9(5), 645-662.
Harwood, C. G., & Knight, C. J. (2015). Parenting in youth sport: A position paper on parenting expertise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, Part 1, 24-35. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.03.001
Harwood, C. G., Knight, C. J., Thrower, S. N., & Berrow, S. R. (2019). Advancing the study of parental involvement to optimise the psychosocial development and experiences of young athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 42, 66-73.
Keegan, R. J., Harwood, C. G., Spray, C. M., & Lavallee, D. E. (2009). A qualitative investigation exploring the motivational climate in early career sports participants: Coach, parent and peer influences on sport motivation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10(3), 361-372. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.12.003
O’Rourke, D. J., Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Cumming, S. P. (2014). Relations of parent-and coach-initiated motivational climates to young athletes’ self-esteem, performance anxiety, and autonomous motivation: who is more influential? Journal of applied sport psychology, 26(4), 395-408.
Quested, E., & Duda, J. L. (2011). Enhancing children’s positive sport experiences and personal development. Coaching children in sport, 123-138.