The Role of Parental Involvement in Youth Sport Participation and Performance

Article excerpt

Parents often assume the role of motivator, facilitator, even coach in the life of the young athlete. In these roles parents can provide financial, emotional, and physical support. They can also apply pressure to the young athlete in the interest of excellence and success. The present research examined parental support and parental pressure and their role in the sport experience of young tournament tennis players. Tennis players were chosen because their evaluation of outcomes is based on individual performance. As such, we would not expect to see among tennis players the biased attributions likely to accompany team members' evaluation of their own contribution to group performance outcomes. Moreover, tennis is a sport in which there is ample opportunity for parents to involve themselves in the young athlete's sport experience.

Research indicates that among young athletes parental support is associated with greater enjoyment of sport (Left & Hoyle, 1995; Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1986), more positive appraisal of performance outcomes (Smith, Zingale, & Coleman, 1978), and more positive appraisals of self-worth (Coopersmith, 1967; Felker, 1968; Left & Hoyle, 1955). Parental pressure, on the other hand, is associated with discontent with sport participation (Smith, 1986), stress associated with evaluation of performance outcomes (McElroy, 1982; Ogilvie, 1979; Scanlan & Passer, 1979), and negative or uncertain appraisals of self-worth (Smith et al., 1978). Building on these findings, the association of young tournament tennis players' perceptions of parental support and parental pressure with their enjoyment of tennis, objective and subjective performance ratings, and self-esteem were examined.

Parental support was defined as behaviors by parents perceived by their children as facilitating athletic participation and performance (Leff & Hoyle, 1995). Two aspects of this definition merit elaboration. First, it is most likely that children's perception of their parents' support contributes to the emotional and athletic adjustment of the child. Avid parental support that is not apparent to the child is not likely to be as effective as minimal parental support that is acknowledged and appreciated by the child. Second, parental support affects children's participation and their performance in sport (Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1986). In this context, participation means their continued enjoyment of and loyalty to the sport; performance means the level of accomplishment they are able to attain.

Parental pressure was defined as behavior perceived by their children as indicating expectations of unlikely, even unattainable heights of accomplishment (Leff & Hoyle, 1995). As with parental support, the emphasis is on the perception of the child, not the objective behavior of the parents. Parental pressure has been operationalized as the discrepancy between parents' and the young athlete's expectations (McElroy & Kirkendall, 1981; Smith et al., 1978).

One objective of this research was to determine the extent to which perceived parental involvement is associated with young athletes' enjoyment of their sport participation. Focus on players' enjoyment of tennis reflects a growing concern that youth sports has come to be a burden rather than a source of positive growth and development for young athletes (Feltz, 1986). This concern has arisen despite recent evidence that the desire for enjoyment is the number one reason young athletes cite for their participation in sports (Gould & Horn, 1984). Martens and Seefeldt (1979) included the "Right to have fun in sports" in their "Bill of Rights for Young Athletes." It was hypothesized here that perceived parental support would be positively associated with players' self-reported enjoyment of tennis, whereas perceived parental pressure would be negatively associated.

A second objective was to determine the extent to which parental involvement is associated with young athletes' performance and their perception of their performance. …


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