Parents, when it comes to the impact you have on your child’s sporting experience, do not underestimate your influence. Children learn from watching others and copying the behavior they see demonstrated. It is most often the parent who is the first person to introduce a child to sports, and parental involvement can affect whether a child enjoys the experience or not (1, 2, 3).

Role of Parents in Youth Sports

Parental involvement in sports can be looked at as a continuum from not involved at all to over-involved (3). It can range from low to high and from positive to negative. Positive involvement includes supporting your child through ways such as verbal encouragement, your presence at a game, allowing your child to make his/her own decisions about what sport to participate in, and providing financial and other resources that enable his/her participation. Negative involvement refers to directive behavior, and pressure to win or perform up to a parent’s expectations. Recent research has shed light onto the relationship between parental involvement and the type of youth sports experience a child has.

Supportive Parental Involvement in Sports

It is not surprising that the research overwhelmingly points to a connection between positive, supportive parental involvement and a child’s level of enjoyment and success in the sport he or she is playing. (1, 2, 3, 4). It has also been suggested that a moderate level of involvement would be the optimum level of parental involvement (1). Hellstedt (1) theorized that over-involved parents may create high levels of pressure, while under-involved parents do not provide enough support to facilitate a child’s desire to participate. But those parents who are moderately involved seem to provide just the right balance not only to facilitate enjoyment, but also to challenge the child to continue to grow and develop his/her skills. On the surface, this theory seems to hold up. Without support, especially financial and emotional, it would be very difficult for a child to be able to participate, and the pressure felt from the parent who is over-involved could easily take out all the enjoyment of playing sports.

Optimal Level of Parental Involvement in Sports

However, what appears to be the most significant finding is that it may not actually be what you do that affects your child’s experience. Rather what appears to be important is how your child perceives what you do (2, 3). For example, you might be classified by others as a parent who does not seem very involved, yet if your child perceives your support and feels that your level of involvement is just right, they would be more likely to have an enjoyable experience than another child in the same situation who did not feel like their parent’s level of involvement was optimal.

When Involvement is Stressful for Youth in Sports

So how do you know if your level of support and involvement is optimal? Simple – ask your child. Stein et al. (3) recommend that you discuss with your child the ways in which you are involved, and ask your child how he or she wants you to be involved. They also recommend discussing with your child things that you might do involving their sports participation that could be perceived as stressful for your child, and also things that your child enjoys. If your child feels you are a bit over-involved, it may be difficult to hear. The best thing you can do for them in this case is to really take to heart how they feel and reduce your involvement if necessary, no matter how much it hurts.


(1) Wuerth, S., Lee, M. J., & Alfermann, D. (2004). Parental involvement and athletes’ career in youth sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5, 21-33. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from Science Direct database.

(2) Anderson, J. C., Funk, J. B., Elliott, R. & Smith, P. H. (2003). Parental support and pressure and children’s extracurricular activities: Relationships with amount of involvement and affective experience of participation. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 241-257. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from Science Direct database.

(3) Stein, G. L., Raedeke, T. D. & Glenn, S. D. (1999). Children’s perceptions of parent sport involvement: It’s not how much, but to what degree that’s important. Journal of Sport Behavior, 22, 591-601. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from Academic Search Premier database.

(4) Hoyle, R. H., & Leff, S. S. (1997). The role of parental involvement in youth sport participation and performance. Adolescence, 32, 233-243. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from Academic Search Premier database.

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