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The Role of Parents in the Physical Education of Children

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Parents generally mean well and want the best for their children. This has seen parents become more involved in their children’s lives. Parents will try to prepare their children to be as successful if not more successful than them. One avenue of focus that has seen more attention being increasingly paid to children is in sports. Parents have viewed sports as an additional means to education that will help leverage the future of the children higher. However, parental involvement in sports has brought about increased pressure on children to view sports as more of a career rather than fun. A 2016 poll by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that approximately 70 percent of kids in the US stopped playing organized sports by the time they reached age 13 and the reason they gave was because “it’s just not fun anymore.” (Miner, 2016).

This is worrying especially since child obesity is rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a grim picture of the statistics for 2 to 19 year olds. Between the ages of 2 and 5 year olds, 13.9 percent of the children were found to be obese. 18.4 percent of 6 to 11 year olds were found to be obese and 20.6 percent of 12 to 19 year olds were found to be obese. Note the increasing trend of obesity as children get older and become adolescents. Yet, over the years parents have become more involved in their children’s academic and social lives. A study shows that parental attendance at general school meetings in elementary schools alone is at over 90 percent of parents (El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drzal, 2010). Approximately 80 percent of all parents nationally have reported attendance in school meeting and 60 percent of them even volunteer at school (El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drzal, 2010). Certainly the impact has been improvement in academic performance, but the increased involved has been seen in sports too and the consequences have been the opposite of academic performance as seen in the National Alliance for Youth.

While it is common to applaud and encourage the parents who are deeply involved in their children’s lives as well as consider them to be model parents, evidence is beginning to suggest something different about such parents. A 2013 study suggested that such parents may have an unhealthy view of the children. The study suggests that parents may desire that their child fulfill their broken dreams. The child seems like a conduit for redeeming the parents’ dreams. This makes the parents view the child as more of a part of themselves rather than separate individuals. The study on 73 parents with a median age of 43 years may well be the “first experimental evidence to suggest that parents may desire their child to redeem their broken dreams.” (Brummelman, Thomaes, Slagt, Overbeek, de Castro, & Bushman, 2013). The parents are then likely to be pushy and be unhealthily involved in their children’s lives. This perhaps partly explains the parental pressure that youth experience which results in them becoming even less interested in sports.

However, this does not mean that overall parental involvement in youth sports has negative repercussions. A study investigating the relationship between parents’ behavior and players’ motivational orientation involving 723 parents and 723 athletes shows the effects of parental pressure in youth sports (Pedro, Francisco, David, Diana, & Tomás, 2013). The players belonged to handball, football, basketball and volleyball teams thus the study cuts across various sports domains. The players were also female and male thus implying the results of the study cut across gender. The participants completed questionnaires. The results of study showed that there was a positive relationship between players’ enjoyment and parents’ support of the sport while negative relationship ensued of the player’s amotivation (Pedro et al., 2013). Conversely, when players’ perceived parental pressure, a negative relationship with players’ enjoyment and a positive relationship with amotivation was noted. This shows that parental pressure is aligned with youth becoming less interested in sports.

Parental pressure on youth may also lead to youth athlete specialization. Youth athlete specialization has been associated with burnout, increased risk of injury and decreased enjoyment (Padaki, Ahmad, Hodgins, Kovacevic, Lynch, & Popkin, 2017). The extent to which parents influence their children to specialize has remained unclear. However, a study may have cleared the air over the issue. The cross-sectional study on parents investigated the presence of direct and indirect pressures on youth to specialize. Of the 211 participants, 201 completed the assessment tool.

Astonishingly, 57.2 percent of the parents hoped that their children to play professionally or at least collegiately and 49.7 percent of parents actually “encouraged their children to specialize in a single sport” (Padaki, et al., 2017). The study also deduced that parents whose children were either moderately or highly specialized had more likely a direct influence in the child’s specialization and to expect them to play professionally. Indirect influence was seen when parents hired personal trainers for their children and similarly such parents held professional aspirations for their children. Thus one would conclude that parents do indeed influence youth athlete specialization directly and indirectly through personal instruction and elite coaching (Padaki, et al., 2017). Generally, parents of more specialized athletes tended to exert more influence compared to parents of unspecialized athletes.

Another study cements the view of that parental involvement through providing personal instruction and elite coaching may also have a negative impact on youth sports. The study looked at a national sample of 163 parent child relationships and realized a negative association between family financial investment and child sport commitment (Ryan, Dorsch, King, & Rothlisberger, 2016). The researchers noticed that the more the family invested in the child’s sporting endeavors the more the child perceived the sport to be much less enjoyable and perceived the parental efforts as parental pressure. Hence, deducing from this and the previously mentioned studies, parental pressure manifests itself through a number of ways. It appears through direct parental urgings for the child to be more engaged in the sport. It also appears through parental financial involvement.

As the parental pressure turns the child’s sporting enjoyment negative, there are consequences that could arise. A study by Hamstra, Cherubini and Swanik showed that there are psychological and physical health risks that are associated with a negative youth sport experience (2002). It was noted that youth sport-injury rates were connected to the athletes’ level of anxiety that was experienced from external pressure (Hamstra, Cherubini, & Swanik, 2002). An example of external pressure is parental pressure. Thus parents who pressure their children in engagements related to sports are not only likely to cause psychological problems for the child but also lead them to be physically injured.

The matter is made even worse when one considers the actual statistics surrounding high school athletes and college sports. The odds of a high school athletes going on to play in varsity sport is a little over 7 percent of high school athletes. Less than 2 percent of athletes in high school will go on to play at the NCAA Division 1 schools (O’Rourke 2018). The chase for a college athletic scholarship has equally worse odds. Between 2013 and 2014, there were 7,539,099 high school athletes while there were only 136,364 college athletic scholarships. These are odds of 55 high school athletes for each scholarship which comes to less than 2 percent odd of getting a college athletic scholarship. Parental pressure for their children to get the scholarships are putting undue burden for the children.

Even if a parent able, through pressure, to get their children to be good enough for a scholarship and then move on to play professionally, the results of the long term overbearing nature can have very negative repercussions on the child. In an article on Psychology Today, author Muller talks about how some of the most successful athletes have been impacted by parental pressure. Andre Agassi for instance is one of the most successful tennis players in history and with it he has accumulated fame and fortune. But despite that, he consumed methamphetamine to dull the psychological impacts of his father’s overbearing treatment on his sports career. Agassi mentions that when he won his first Grand Slam title, instead of his father congratulating him, his immediate response was “You had no business losing that fourth set” (Muller, 2015). Another famous athlete was baseball player Mickey Mantle whose father would intensely pressure him. Mantle ended up struggling with alcoholism and even contemplating suicide.

Additionally, parents who pressure their children tended to underestimate their pressure. In study investigating the perceptions of pressure between parents and children found that parents would view their pressure to be low compared to the children’s perceptions (Kanters & Casper, 2008). Another study looking at the characteristics of youth sports drop out and engaged athletes revealed some interesting aspects. Comparing 25 drop out swimmers and 25 engaged adolescent swimmers revealed that drop outs were more likely to parents who in their youth were high level athletes, less unstructured swimming play and fewer extra-curricular activities (Fraser-Thomas, Cote, & Deakin, 2008). Likely the drop out youths experienced significant amounts of pressure from their parents who took a keen interest in their children’s sports as they were interested when they were young.

In view of the negative repercussions of parental pressure on youth sports, a raft of measures are necessary to keep the relationship between the child and parent healthy while allowing the child room of personal growth in sports. The first thing that should happen is that parents should start looking at their child differently. This is such that they should view their child as a separate individual rather than an extension of self (Brummelman et al., 2013). This change in perception will help the parent look at the child as an autonomous individual who need help developing their interests. It will also help the parent deal their own psychological issues as to why they badly need to see themselves in their children. By allowing the child to become more autonomous, the child become more confident, experiences increased self esteem and is able to handle decision making better. Thus it is psychologically better for the child is the parent does not pressure him or her. The opposite is a drug addicted Andre Agassi and a suicidal and alcoholic Mickey Mantle.

Second thing is the parent to realize that there is a difference between parental pressure and parental support. In fact, parental participation and support has been found to “promote an increase of players’ enjoyment of and motivation for sport” (Pedro et al., 2013). Therefore, the parent should not back away from participating in the child’s sports life for fear of negatively impacting the child. Instead, the parent should explore a more positive engagement with the child through continuous and honest communication with the child. This will require listening more to children and allowing them to follow their enjoyment through experimenting with various sports that take their interest.

The third thing to do is to back off from encouraging the child to specialize in sports quite early unless it is their wish. And even if it is their wish to specialize early, it is important to always create an environment where the child could decide to back out of the sport if they wish to without feeling significant parental pressure. This means that the child’s wish to specialize should not act as the gateway for parents to assume that the child has now specialized and thus they can proceed to pressure the child. If they do so, the child will likely feel lees enjoyment of the sport and probably have negative psychological effects since they feel they have to continue with the sport simply because of their parents’ pressure (Padaki et al., 2017). Backing off from encouraging specialization will increase the child’s enjoyment of sports in general which at the very least will contribute to the child’s physical fitness.

The fourth thing to do is to avoid significant financial investment in the child’s sport. By financial investment, I mean personal instruction and elite coaching. As previously seen, the child feels heavily pressured if the family have made significant financial investment in the sport (Ryan et al., 2016). The child would begin to view participating in the sport as a mandatory thing and will start enjoying the sport less. This does not necessarily mean that there should be no financial investment at all. Instead, any investment should be done when the child has shown prolonged and intense interest and the child has specifically communicated interest in such a thing. However, there is value in always ensuring there is honest and open communication between the child and the parent so that the child can always understand that they are free to stop the sport when they want and that they are not obligated to continue pursuing the sport simply because there has been considerable financial investment made.

The fifth thing to do is to encourage more unstructured play in the sport, engage in other extra-curricular activities as well as form friendships with other sportsmen (Fraser-Thomas, Cote, & Deakin, 2008). Unstructured play in sport allows the players to focus on enjoying themselves rather than be competitive. Unstructured play naturally means much less pressure as the goal is not necessarily competitive. Unstructured play is also beneficial to the child as he or she can explore other aspects of their interests in sports such as by trying out trick moves and plays thus encouraging them to be creative. Encouraging the child to be proactive in other extra-curricular activities will allow them to express themselves and their abilities in a variety of ways thus improving their capacity to remain in sports. Essentially, the more wholesome a child is, activity-wise, the more likely he or she will stick to sports. Finally, encouraging them to form friendships within the sport will contribute to helping them enjoy the sport more, reduce the need for financial investment in the sport as the friends can help develop each other skills and will contribute to the child staying with the sport reducing chances of dropping out.

Finally, encourage the child to focus on cooperation and skills mastery as opposed to winning (Brummelman et al., 2013). This will reduce an unhealthy focus on winning which could take the place of the child self esteem and make the child feel at the whims of competitive pressures. By focus on skills mastery and cooperation, the child learns to become more focused on building character and habit systems that could be transferable to other interests. By focusing on skills mastery the child will have a much more useful habit formation anchor that lasts a life time. By focusing on cooperation the child would learn team work and be well equipped to liaise with others throughout his or her life. Essentially, the parent should help the child focus on building character and habits through sports rather than view the child’s participation as a collective streak of wins and losses.

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