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The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport
The athlete’s journey: transitions through sport

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3 The challenges of being a sporting parent

Figure 2 illustrates some of the factors that athletes must consider as they negotiate parenthood and their sporting career. Most of these apply to both mothers and fathers, but as you explored in the previous section, athletic mothers experience additional physical challenges.

Examples of the challenges of parenthood and sport. Described in long description available below.
Figure 2 Factors to consider when balancing parenthood and sport

You have looked at some of the physical challenges that can be faced by female athletes due to the physical changes that take place during pregnancy and post-partum and which have practical implications on training and competition. While many women do continue to maintain training, the level at which they are able to train will be at a significantly lower level than pre-pregnancy.

You will look at this and some of these other challenges in the next activity.

Activity 3 Managing a career and parenthood – a case study

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Read the blog article below which was authored by Candice Lingam-Willgoss (one of the authors of this course) and Jessica Pinchbeck.

In this article, Candice and Jessica share their thoughts on combining a career as an elite netball player with parenthood. As you read the article make notes on the following points:

  • What makes it possible to juggle a career in elite sport with parenthood?
  • Why do some athletes decide to wait until they retire before starting a family?
  • Do you think different sports have different challenges when it comes to combining a career in sport with parenthood?

Managing a career and motherhood: is it possible in elite netball? [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


The article notes that one of the main factors making it possible to juggle a career in elite sport with parenthood is the importance of support, whether social or financial. This links closely to external factors as detailed in Figure 2.

The nature of elite level netball requires athletes to travel extensively in order to play, which often means leaving family at home and possible childcare issues. This can seem like an insurmountable logistical challenge to overcome and is often a reason athletes decide to wait until they retire before starting a family. As mentioned in the article, Geva Mentor decided to freeze her eggs so the decision to start a family is not affected by the age she chooses to retire.

Team sports such as netball − where teammates are reliant on you to be there − brings up a new challenge as athletes have to fit in with more structured training times. Those in individual sports, such as a long-distance runner who is able to train alone, may not feel that same sense of responsibility to their peers.

The article in Activity 3 very much focused on the tangible practical challenges that can in many ways be predicted. However, there are other less tangible, unpredictable factors that athletes face in relation to their emotional and psychological reaction. One example is guilt, a concept that is often talked about in connection to parenthood.

This theme is often highlighted in research looking more broadly at the relationship between physical activity and parenthood (McGannon et al., 2012). McGannon and Schinke’s (2013) study looked at the relationship recreational athletes had with exercise after they had children. They found that women accept, when they have children, they will feel guilty about anything they do for themselves. Furthermore, in the case of elite athletes, this is also a period that sees identity challenged as athletes seek to fulfil two roles (which could be viewed as incompatible by some) and manage the associated guilt.