Supporting positive sport parenting: Q & A with U of T expert Katherine Tamminen

Super-hero duo of father and daughter (iStock images)

Yelling from the sidelines and fighting in the stands has earned some sport parents a bad rap. In contrast, Parents in Sport Week wants to recognize the positive impact parents can have on youth sport – helping their children reach their potential in their chosen sport while having fun. First conceived by the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) in the United Kingdom, Parents in Sport Week is marked every October.

We spoke to Dr. Katherine Tamminen, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, about the pivotal role parents play in raising healthy young athletes and how sport organizations can work with parents and coaches to help children thrive. Tamminen’s research interests include sport psychology, youth sport and adolescent athletes.

How are parents good for sport?

Parents play a huge role in youth sport from enrolling their child in sport, paying for registration, equipment and travel costs, providing transportation to practices and competitions and, most importantly, in socializing children’s sport experiences. In their interactions and conversations with their child about their experiences, parents convey messages to children about what is important in sport. Parents sometimes get a bad rap in youth sport, but the vast majority of parents are supportive, positive influences on their child’s sport experiences and contribute to a positive sport environment for everyone. 

What are some examples of positive parental behaviour and its effects on children in sport?

Some examples of positive parental behaviours include allowing children to make choices and have input into the types of activities they participate in, providing unconditional support for their child in sport, regardless of their child’s or the team’s performance and helping children navigate turbulent times in sport – including disappointments, conflicts and setbacks. These types of behaviours that support children’s autonomy and help them to cope with stress in sport are positively linked to athletes’ enjoyment, commitment, motivation and even their achievement in sport.

How can sport clubs work with parents and coaches so that kids can thrive?

Parents often tell us that they are seeking information, education and resources to help them in supporting their child’s sport participation. The best advice I have for clubs and teams is to engage parents and work to include them, rather than viewing parents as ‘problems to be managed’. Parent meetings are great opportunities to provide education and resources to parents, but they are also valuable to continue engaging parents throughout the season and to offer them opportunities to think about their role in their child’s sport experience.

Tamminen did a webinar on October 2 on behalf of Active for Life, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help Canadians raise physically literate children. The webinar explores positive sport parenting strategies for coaches, clubs and parents and can be found on the Parents in Sport Week toolkit, along with other Active for Life resources.

Read more on Tamminen’s research on the car ride home from physical activity and sport engagements, posted in a blog on the Sport Information Resource Centre’s (SIRC) webpage.