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Parental influence

Identify and evaluate the influences a parent can have on their child’s sport or physical activity.

A child’s involvement in sport or physical activity starts from a very early age and is

an important factor to their development in terms of their social skills, self esteem

and their level of health. Children who are physically active tend to be healthier and

reduce the risk developing health issues such as obesity and more serious health

issues in later life. The department of health (DOH) (2010) reports that current

recommendations for physical activity for children is that all children aged between 5

and 18 years old take part in 1 hour of physical activity every day. In 2006 70% of

boys and 59% girls were active for 1 hour per day. However, the level of physical

activity fell in girls over the age of 15 years to 45% (DOH, 2010). In terms of social

skills it can benefit a child psychologically by giving them a sense of well being and

increase self esteem. Healthy behaviours that are adopted from an early age will

hopefully continue throughout their adult lives. There are a range of influences that

impact on a child’s physical activity or sport involvement. A fundamental starting

point is parents, peers and teachers. Keegan et al (2009) states that parents play a

vital role in the influence of motivating their child to play sport . The role of the

coach/teacher focuses heavily on the instruction and assessment of the child,  The

influence from peers is through competitiveness, collaborative and social behaviours. .

Role modelling has been suggested as a huge form of influence in relation to a

childs participation in sport. This is where children mirror the behaviours of their

parents, this is known as observational learning or modelling (Bandura, 1986).

Bandura argued that there is a four step process in observational learning these are

Attention, where the individual sees the behaviour being carried out. If the attention

is detracted this will have a negative effect on observational learning. Memory,

where the individual is able to store and recall the observed behaviour. Behaviour,

where the individual must have the skill to reproduce the behaviour, and motivation,

this describes the individual having the motivation to carry out the behaviour when

they have the opportunity to do so. Bandura’s research found that when someone

witnessed certain behaviour they were more inclined to adopt that behaviour of their

own for example active parents have active children (Freedson and Eveson, 1991).

However Trost et al (2003) suggested that parental role modelling may not be a

sufficient influence of sport. He reported that parental support was associated with a

child’s involvement in physical activity both directly and indirectly through positive

perceptions. Parental support includes parental enjoyment of the sport or physical

activity, the parents perceived importance and the parental behaviour towards sport

and physical activity. Parents cannot help their child develop skills, however parental

supportive behaviours for example travel, offering lifts to practice, buying equipment,

allowing practice time and observing activities (Keegan et al, 2009) increased levels

of confidence. Children whose parents exhibited positive beliefs and behaviours

about their childs competency reported higher levels of competence (Babkes and

Weiss, 1999). Parents who perceive their child to have ability are much more

likely to provide that emotional support. A parent’s level of physical activity is not

directly linked with their children, however active parents are more likely to have

active children through encouraging behaviour and providing them with more


In a study by Bois et al (2005) they also found that parents can affect their childs

involvement in sport and physical activity both direct and indirectly. This is through

role modelling and through beliefs of their child’s competence. Both fathers and

mothers are influential in different ways by different processes. Mothers adopt a

more indirect  approach by giving love, praise and encouragement. Where fathers

have a very different approach and are more direct by giving specific advice on how

to improve their skills and saying if they performed good or bad. The more a

child perceived that they were competent in an activity the more likely they were to

engage in that activity (Laprinzi, 2010). Access to physical activity is an important

responsibility for parents. How parents perceive our parks and playgrounds is an

issue for children living in todays society and can often rely on after school activities

such as football and gymnastics.

Eccles theory focuses on parents shaping their child motivation through their own

beliefs and values . Eccles et al (1991) stated that parental beliefs form an important

platform in socialization behaviours. Parents who expect a child to be successful in a

sport will display behaviours that will influence a child’s motivation to pursue this

sport or activity. These behaviours are normally displayed in relation to their own

beliefs and the child’s beliefs are developed through the feedback in which they

receive from their parents. Parental values refer to how important a particular sport

or activity is to their child and the value it holds. For example how important is my

child’s participation in football as opposed to swimming .This would normally be

based on the parent’s beliefs and how they perceive their child’s competency at that

particular sport. More importantly children will adopt both parent’s beliefs and their

motivation will arise from beliefs originated by their parents. The Eccles model was

originally developed to explain socialized gender differences in children’s

achievement and motivational behaviours “it does not predict the nature of parent’s

involvement in sport in a competitive sport setting” .

Parents who stereotype gender roles influence the nature of socialization. Studies

have shown that parent’s perceptions of their child’s competency can be greatly

influenced by their child’s gender. Parents who believe that boys should play sport

will be encouraged to be more physically active than girls and work harder in sport

(Eccles and Harold, 1991).Parents may also be seen to encourage ‘gifted’ children

but de emphasise with less skilled children. However in a study by Kimmerick et al

(1998) they found that neither mothers or fathers had gender differentiated

perceptions of their child’s competence.

Important research is needed to explore the affects of parental involvement in sport,

as parents are highly involved and visible in sport, they can influence their child not

only positively but negatively . Although research is limited it’s important that we

gain a better understanding of a parent’s involvement and behaviour in competitive

youth sport. Low levels of pressure and less emotion and high parental satisfaction

and praise have all lead to a Child’s motivation and enjoyment of sport. However,

over parental involvement has lead to anxiety (Fredricks and Eccles, 2004). In other

research parents that are more involved in competitive youth sport has been

highlighted by sports organisations. Researchers are becoming more aware of the

type of behaviours that parents display in competitive youth sport and call for more

research on parent’s actual behaviours (Holt et al, 2008).

The manner in which a child perceives or interprets a message from their parents will

influence their psychosocial and affective outcomes (Eccles et al, 1991). If parents

provide positive comments and re enforcement  following an activity this promotes

intrinsic motivation and has a positive affect (Babkes and Weiss, 1999). However,

negative comments and lack of re enforcement produces low intrinsic motivation.

Expectations and behaviours from parents are concerns which have been

acknowledged by coaches and the behaviours of the coach is often seen as

problematic by parents. Parents and coaches need to come to an understanding that

they both have important roles to play. Parents need to acknowledge that coach will

have goals and objectives and will need to critically evaluate their childs performance

in addition to offering experience and expertise, parents should support this role.

Cox (2010) suggested that the role of the coach and the parent should be

dual rather than independent, although we are able to differentiate between the

coach-athlete role and parent-athlete role. A coach displays behaviours of instruction

in response to skills thus increasing intrinsic motivation and self esteem this

perceives greater autonomy which relate to satisfaction and enjoyment of the sport.

Whilst it is important that parents have a level of involvement in their child’s sport or

physical activity it should be addressed that success will depend on the quality of

parental involvement. Over involved parents result in high levels of parental pressure

can lead to lowered self esteem. Where parents who lack interest in the child’s

activity they are unlikely to provide any emotional support resulting in their child not

taking part or seeking support from elsewhere for example teachers or coaches

(Wuerth et al, 2002). Parental involvement lies on a continuum and somewhere in

the middle would be ideal. Undoubtedly parents play a highly fundamental role in

their child’s sport or physical activity and can be identified through modelling,

support, direct in indirect help and by providing opportunities (Cox, 2008). Parent’s

beliefs, values and behaviours have a huge influence on their child. How a parent

perceives their child’s competence or ability can influence the level of emotional

support they provide thus determine how successful their child may become in sport.


Anderson, C.B., Hughes, S.O., Fuemmeler, B.F. (2009)’ Parent-Child Attitude Congruence on Type and Intensity of Physical Activity: Testing Multiple Mediators of Sedentary Behaviour in older children.’ Health Psychology.  American Psychological Association 2009. 28 (4) pp. 428-438

Babkes, M. L., & Weiss, M. R. (1999). ‘Parental influence on children’s cognitive and affective responses to competitive soccer participation.’ Pediatric Exercise Science 11, pp.44-62

Bois, J.E., Sarrazin, P.G., Brustad, R.J., Trouilloud, D.O., Cury, F. 2005 ‘Elementary schoolchildren’s perceived competence and physical activity involvement: the influence of parents’ role modelling behaviours and perceptions of their child’s competence’ Psychology of Sport and Exercise 6 (2005) pp.381-397

Cox, M., Schofield, G., Kolt, G.S.’Responsibility for children’s physical activity: Parental, child, and teacher perspectives’ Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 13 (2010)  pp. 46-52

Department of health (DOH)

[accessed 22nd March 2010]

Eccles, J. S., & Harold, R. D. (1991) ‘Gender differences in sport involvement: Applying the Eccles expectancy-value model’.Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 3 pp. 7-35.

Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2005). ‘Family socialization, gender, and sport motivation and involvement.’ Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 27 pp. 3-31

Freedson, P. S., & Evenson, S. (1991). ‘Familial aggregation in physical activity. ‘Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 62 pp. 384-389

Holt, N.L., Tamminena, K.A., Blacka, D.E., Sehna. Z.L., Wallb, M.P.

‘Parental involvement in competitive youth sport settings’ Psychology of Sport and Exercise 9 (2008) pp.663-685

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 (2009) pp. 361-372

Loprinzi, P.D., Trost, S.G.’Parental influences on physical activity behaviour in preschool children’ Preventive Medicine 50 (2010) pp.129-133

Trost, S.G., Sallis. J.F., Pate, R.R, Freedson, P.S., Taylor, W.C., Dowda,M.’ Evaluating a Model of Parental Influence on Youth Physical Activity’ Am J Prev Med (2003)

Wuerth, S., Lee, M.J., Alfermann. D.’Parental Involvement and athletes’ career in youth sport’ Psychology of Sport and Exercise 5 (2004). Pp. 21-33


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