Kids in Sports, Part 4: How do youth sports affect parents?

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I’m not a very sporty parent – I was never very athletic as a kid – but I signed my kids up for all kinds of sports. I hoped they would learn not only about the activities themselves, but about teamwork and coping with losing. I also thought that playing on teams might lead to increased confidence in other areas of my kids’ lives. Researchers at Purdue University recently found that youth sport participation has an impact on parents, too. Travis Dorsch and his colleagues interviewed 26 parents in detail about the impact of their kids' participation in sports; their work is published in the August issue of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. They heard some expected comments - about the financial sacrifices and time required for kids to play on a team - but parents also described changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours related to the sport. Parents who had not participated in sports themselves became more interested, or began to learn more about the activity by playing with their child. They became invested in the sport and their child's performance - sometimes they had to make an effort to change their "bleacher behaviour." Some participants described increased communication and improvements in the parent-child relationship, including opportunities to get to know the child's friends. Others talked about social connections with parents of their child's team-mates. Some parents felt that they had to prepare themselves emotionally for the time when their child would lose interest in the sport. Of course, negative comments were heard about having kids in sports as well, but these seemed to occur less frequently than the positive ones.

Although this was a small, exploratory study, the results leaped out at me as I read - I've experienced many of these things since my son started playing soccer. I had rarely played or even seen the game before my son became interested in it, and now I find myself kicking the ball around with him in our yard and shouting encouragement to him and his team-mates from the sidelines at the games. I've rarely found myself invested in the outcome of these kinds of events, but I have to monitor my own reactions if his team misses the goal or lets the opponents score. There's a bit of an adrenaline rush during an exciting game that can transform how proud I am of him into something even bigger. My son has become more confident in his abilities, and I've had a chance to see his skills improve - increasing my confidence in him as well!

My younger son, who's only 6, hasn't yet found the sport that catches his interest. It's not for lack of trying, either - he's always enrolled in something. No matter what the sport, he usually prefers the treat at the end to the game itself. Rather than watching him develop his skills, we get to see him dump water on his head to convince his coach that he worked up a sweat! He's entertaining, but he's not into being part of the team. Every once in a while he becomes invested in a particular soccer game, and he's even scored some goals, but his interest is inconsistent. We're going to keep trying, because I think sports are important - I just didn't realize that they were important for me as well as for the kids!

You can read the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology study here.

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