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Family and sport—the social mix

Monday, April 28, 2014
Laila Ali and her father the great Muhammed Ali, both boxers.

Socialisation into sports and physical activities should start an early age as it will not only allow for the development of a positive behavioral trait but will also increase the chances of continuing this behaviour beyond adolescents and into adulthood. 


The level and extent of engagement in sports and physical activities however, will be dependent upon other factors such as level of education, work, family commitments and other activities that will become an integral part of post-adolescent life. 


There are numerous studies that have been conducted in other parts of the world that show that participation into sports and physical activities is socially constructed. Therefore, in order to increase sports participation rates, there is a need to know the factors that influence engagement in sports and physical activities. These factors can be social, psychological, and or physiological. 


One of the social factors that have been shown to influence youth participation in sports and physical activities is the family. Some of the research that has been conducted on family influence on youth participation in sports and physical activities are discussed below.


In a study of parent-child relationship, Hennessy et al 2010 argued that supportive parenting styles were linked to higher levels of child physical activity. The researchers found that the children of accommodating parents had more time of moderate vigorous physical activity (MVPA) than children’s whose parents were uninvolved. 


Additionally, the researchers’ note that parents whose support was beyond average levels, had children who engaged in more time of MVPA. Therefore, the findings of this study indicates that an active and facilitating parenting style and practices has the potential to impact positively on levels of child physical activity.


In another study of 1200 households from the register of USA swimming, Dukes and Coakley (2002) attempted to establish the statistical correlates of parental commitment to competitive swimming. According to Dukes and Coakley (2002) parental involvement and commitment play a critical role to children’s participation in sports and physical activities. 


They argue further that the importance of parental involvement increases with organised youth sport. The commitment of parents towards swimming increased when it was believed that swimming improved the chances of child development. These developments emphasized achievements via competitive success. At the same time, the researchers noted that the over commitment to competitive swimming may actually be deleterious to the youth as it may lead to overtraining and burnout. 


Kremer-Sadlik and Kim (2007) state that parents influence on children’s participation in sports and physical activities extend beyond the formal sporting arena. They claim that other sporting contexts such as an informal setting where back-yard activities can take place and passive participation in sport activities such as engaging in conversations during live games play an important role in the overall socialisation of children to important values and norms. 


Drawing on a positive perspective, Kremer-Sadlik and Kim (2007) argue that parents must demonstrate positive character building and leadership qualities which children can incorporate in every aspect of daily lives.


Although recognising that social class is an important factor for influencing participation in sports and physical activities, the researchers argued that family culture is critical to having a predisposition to participate in sports and physical activities. Given the importance family culture to sports engagement, they concluded that once participation in sports and physical activities was not encouraged in childhood all programmes that seek to increase adult participation maybe ineffective. Additionally, they further reinforce the importance of early childhood predisposition to sports and physical activities by stating that these would be the persons who are more likely to make use of new sporting facilities.


It is evident from the assessment of the aforementioned studies that family engagement and influence is important for the youth not only getting involved early in sports and physical activities but staying involved in the post-adolescent period. At the same time it is important to note that these studies were conducted in societies that such as the US that has a rich sporting culture. Therefore, it is imperative that in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean indigenous research is carried out to determine the impact of family and other variables on participation in sports and physical activities. 


It is only with robust empirical data can proper policies be developed and implemented not only to increase and sustain youth participation in sports and physical activities but also adult participation.


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