Elite Sports Parents
Families play a pivotal role in the development of children’s sports talent. Parents are the most influential in initially exposing their children to sports and provide the greatest encouragement concerning their participation. Elite sports parents are those whose resources support the development of a child’s talent in becoming an elite athlete.
There can be worlds of difference between an American middle-class family with a thirteen-year-old male basketball player and a Chinese low-income family with an eight-year-old female gymnast. Yet, some general aspects can be stressed. Certain types of families seem to be more likely to nurture sports talents. Social and economic conditions play a central role because children from a family in a higher socioeconomic group are more likely to achieve high levels of performance. This is also the case if children come from a family that is headed by two parents. Moreover, children are more likely to become elite sports performers in families in which the parents have competed at a high level in sports.
Few studies concern the way in which elite sports parents and their families function in supporting children’s sports talent and the factors that can limit the parents’ capacity to do so.The emphasis among sports researchers has been on the impact that parents have on their children’s sports careers.
Parents appear to be important as financial supporters, as organizers of transportation, in providing moral support, as supportive in times of problems such as injuries, and in their presence at practice and games. However, parental roles differ, and research concerning elite performers has revealed different stages in the development of talent, including shifting demands on the parents.
Research suggests that in the early years, the sampling years (ages 6–12), optimum parental support is given to encouraging their child’s participation, having fun, and enjoying the learning. In programs for the development of talent, it is recommended that parents provide the child with access to varied programs of physical education and sport from an early age. Rather than additional advice, the children require understanding and emotional support from their parents.
The middle years, the specializing years (ages 13–15), are characterized by a greater commitment of the child as well as the parents to a particular sport. More accomplished coaches are sought, and the parents often devote more resources to the activity. They are providing the child with financial support and transportation needed for training and competition. Often, the family’s routine can be dominated by the child’s talent development.
During the later years, the investment years, parental involvement might decrease. Parents provide support in a background role and can be essential in providing financial as well as emotional support. During the investment years, athletes often need help in overcoming setbacks, such as major sporting defeats, injuries, pressure, and fatigue. Also, the departure of a trainer or the breaking up of a training team can be a stressful event implicated in competition sport. Of great importance is that parents provide an understanding environment to which their children can retreat, if necessary.
Young athletes are commuters between school and sport. One of the major tasks for the parents in elite sports is to enable their children to gain school qualifications without having to neglect their commitment to top-level sport. Sometimes the parents are involved in teaching their children.
In all research findings, parents and coaches are considered to be the most important people in the athlete’s career. However, their roles are differentiated, and it should be the coach who makes the athlete aware of the reasons for his or her failures and successes. Parents are encouraged to remember that they should not place more importance on their child’s performance than the child does himself or herself.
Families that were defined as being integrated as well as differentiated have been found to be the best stimulus for the development of the teenager’s talent. Integrated families are families with stable conditions among their members and those families that provide their children with a sense of support and consistency. Differentiated families refer to those families in which members are encouraged to develop their individuality by seeking out new challenges and opportunities.
Variety of Life Stories
Different sports have various demands, and the resources that are made available to young athletes and their parents vary among national and federal states and schools. Moreover, gendered as well as subjective strategies used by young athletes, not to mention their parents’ wide variety of strategies, are not to be ignored. Being talented means being different, and every talent is a unique individual and has his or her own life story.
The stages in the development of talent refer to objective demands and social circumstances. However, the perceived pressure is not simply the sum of these demands. Athletes and their parents must have both social and personal resources at their disposal to cope with the pressure imposed on them.
A Time of Family Change
Increased sports participation, seen specifically as a result of increased social acceptance of sports women in the twentieth century, means that more families than ever before have become involved in sports. Moreover, young athletes are involved in an increasing number of competitions and hours of training. Patterns of parental employment and family situations and therefore patterns of parenting have been changing as well.Thus, the social conditions of nurturing sports talents have changed, in particular since the 1970s. The number of elite parents has increased, and their role has expanded for the following reasons: (1) the stakes associated with the success of athletes has increased, and (2) the decline of public support for skills development has forced families to seek elite training in private clubs and with privately hired coaches. This means that parents are now faced with monitoring development outside of the institutional supports that in the past often were provided by public and community-based agencies and schools.
The availability of parental support will significantly influence the ability of a child to engage in the required amounts and quality of training in the future. However, social circumstances, such as a high incidence of divorce, might limit families’ capacities to do so. Social change and constraints in providing support for young performers may further actualize policy interventions or could enhance the sponsorship of activities that would make parents’ practical and economic support of less decisive importance.
Parents influence a child’s initial participation, his or her persistence, and his or her socialization into sport. Children’s enjoyment is paramount, and supportive elite sports parents seem to induce minimal amounts of pressure by being encouraging and by not becoming over-involved.
Inge Kryger Pedersen
See also Academies and Camps, Sport; Family Involvement; Youth Sports
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