Parent and Sport Socialization: Views from the Achievement Literature

By Woolger, Christi; Power, Thomas G. | Journal of Sport Behavior, September 1993 | Go to article overview

Parent and Sport Socialization: Views from the Achievement Literature


Woolger, Christi, Power, Thomas G., Journal of Sport Behavior


In spite of the rapidly growing literature on children's motivation and achievement in sport (e.g., Duda, 1987; Gould & Horn, 1984), the origins of individual differences in sport orientation are poorly understood. Although researchers have examined the influence of coaching style on children's experiences (e.g., Carron & Bennett, 1978; McPherson & Brown, 1988; Smith, Zane, Smoll, & Coppel, 1983), research on parental influences is limited. This is unfortunate, because, as has been documented in a variety of areas (e.g., academic achievement, intellectual competence, socio-moral development), parents play a major role in how their children come to view the world and respond to a wide range of situations and activities (e.g., Clarke-Stewart, 1977; Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Power & Manire, 1992).

Given the potentially important role of parents as sports socializers and the current lack of a conceptual framework for this area, the purpose of the present paper is to present a framework for understanding parental influences based upon the literature on academic achievement motivation.

Despite the obvious differences between the academic and sports contexts (e.g., nature of the skills requiring mastery, primary contexts in which the activities occur, role of the self and others), a striking number of similarities exist. For example, both contexts involve: a) learning, practicing, mastering, and hierarchically organizing basic skills in the development of expertise; b) developing, implementing, and evaluating short-term plans in the pursuit of long-term goals; c) learning to cope with and learn from failures and successes; d) learning to benefit from the evaluative feedback of others; and e) appreciating the value of motivation, drive, and persistence. Moreover, both contexts involve evaluation and social comparison, and often the results of one's efforts are made public to both peers and significant adults. In both the academic and sports contexts, parents often initially assume an instructive role, which is gradually taken over by peers and/or adult experts as the child improves. Parents may continue, however, to play an active role in motivating their children's performance throughout childhood.

Thus, independent of the specific skills or contexts in which learning and performance occur, the sports and academic contexts are similar regarding many of the basic psychological processes involved--goals, plans, skill acquisition, mastery, social comparison, evaluation, attributions, expectations, and so on. Because these are some the same processes through which parental influences in the academic area are presumed to operate (see below), it is likely that the same aspects of parent behavior that affect academic performance and motivation may be important for the sports context as well.

Because parents undoubtedly influence their children's sports achievement and motivation in a variety of ways, our goal is to be broad. Specifically, after a brief review of the current literature on parental influences in sport, we will identify five specific aspects of parental behavior from the achievement literature that likely have an impact on children's motivation and achievement in sport: acceptance, modeling, expectations, rewards/punishments, and directiveness. We will review the existing sport and academic achievement literatures with these dimensions in mind, and outline some specific directions and methods for future inquiry and research.

Parental Influences In Sports: A Review of the Current Literature

Examination of Table 1 shows that previous studies of sport socialization in the family context usually take one of two approaches: 1) college age or adult athletes provide retrospective reports of their parent's behavior during childhood (e.g., Greendorfer, 1977; Scanlan, Stein, & Ravizza, 1991; Synder & Spreitzer, 1973); or 2) primary or secondary school students provide reports about their parents' current childrearing practices (e. …

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