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The experience of parent/coaches in youth sport: A qualitative exploration of junior Australian football.



There has been increasing academic interest in understanding the nature of parental involvement in youth sport. Much scholarly focus has illuminated both positive and negative forms of sport parenting from the perspectives of coaches, parents and youth participants. One less understood aspect however surrounds the potentially conflicting role of parents who coach their own children in youth sport. This is surprising given that many parents demonstrate support by fulfilling essential roles such as team manager and team coach (Jeffery-Tosoni, Fraser-Thomas, & Baker, 2015). This paper emerges from a larger qualitative study, which sought to investigate the nature of parental influence in junior Australian football. As can be the case with qualitative inquiry, a range of unintended themes were uncovered including an exploration of the experiences of being a parent/coach in youth sport. This paper draws on rich, descriptive qualitative data from 16 parent/coaches to highlight the contemporary experiences of parent/coaches who coach their own child. Three themes were identified including deliberate criticism, limited recognition, and behaviour justification, illustrating how parent/coaches intentionally demonstrate differential behaviour toward their child in contrast to the rest of the team. Examples of this include demonstrating deliberate criticism at training and matches and overlooking their child in awarding weekly encouragement awards after each match. Significantly, parent/coaches justify these behaviours in attempting to fulfil the dual role of parent and team coach to the best of their ability. Through the lens of social constructionism, we argue that this is not only problematic for parent and child relationships, but it may also have a reinforcing influence on how other parent/coaches negotiate the dual role. We argue that the reproduction of these behaviours can potentially preserve problematic aspects of parental involvement in youth sport, offering a unique perspective to the sport-parenting literature.
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
The Experience of Parent/Coaches in Youth Sport: A
Qualitative Exploration of Junior Australian Football
Samuel K. Elliott Murray Drummond
Flinders University
There has been increasing academic interest in understanding the nature of parental
involvement in youth sport. Much scholarly focus has illuminated both positive and
negative forms of sport parenting from the perspectives of coaches, parents and
youth participants. One less understood aspect, however, surrounds the potentially
conflicting role of parents who coach their own children in youth sport. This is
surprising given that many parents demonstrate support by fulfilling essential roles
such as team manager and team coach (Jeffery-Tosoni, Fraser-Thomas, & Baker,
2015). This paper draws on rich, descriptive qualitative data from 16 parent/coaches
to highlight the contemporary experiences of parent/coaches who coach their own
child. Three themes were identified including deliberate criticism, limited recognition,
and behaviour justification, illustrating how parent/coaches intentionally
demonstrate differential behaviour toward their child in contrast to the rest of the
team. Examples of this include demonstrating deliberate criticism at training and
matches and overlooking their child in awarding weekly encouragement awards after
each match. Significantly, parent/coaches justify these behaviours in attempting to
fulfil the dual role of parent and team coach to the best of their ability. Through the
lens of social constructionism, we argue that this is not only problematic for parent
and child relationships, but it may also have a reinforcing influence on how other
parent/coaches negotiate the dual role. We argue that the reproduction of these
behaviours can potentially preserve problematic aspects of parental involvement in
youth sport, offering a unique perspective to the sport-parenting literature.
like to think of myself as a good coach. I am
armed with knowledge, qualifications, an
outgoing personality and a theoretical basis
underpinned by an athlete centred approach.
However, throughout the three days of events I found
myself in an invidious position. This is not unusual
given that I have coached my son for the past eight
years within the sport of surf life-saving. Over the
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
time I have coached my son we have been in
situations and circumstances that have not been
pleasant experiences for us both given the feedback
required by a coach to progress an athlete forward.
However, the perception of favouritism towards my
son by the ‘outside world’ is a key concern that has
been foremost in my thoughts in my role as a coach.
While aspects of the sport of surf life saving are
individually oriented, there are many team events.
Similarly, given my role as a state coach I was
entrusted to select the state representative team, in
which my son was ultimately a member. Therefore,
selection transparency was paramount. While it can
be argued that providing, and adhering to, a strong
set of criteria was important for the young athletes it
can also be argued that transparency was required
just as much for the parents as the athletes, such is
the nature of contemporary youth sport.
Problematically, I do feel that in certain
circumstances my son has been ‘dealt a more difficult
hand’ than other young athletes due to my role as
coach. I am often the one to ‘make an example’ of
him in front of other athletes because I think I
know occasionally incorrectly - his capacity for
potential embarrassment. On occasions, I single out
my son to demonstrate a skill in the water due to
my acute awareness of his abilities. However, I also
leave him out of certain relay teams despite his
greater level of fitness and skills in order to give
‘other kids a go.’ Part of my rationale is no doubt
sub-consciously based on how I might be seen by
other parents. The positive aspect of all this is that I
know this to be the case. I often reflect on my
behaviours and I understand my own limitations as
a coach and a father. The problem may be for other
parent/coaches who do not have a level of
introspection and self-reflection. This may be a
starting point to begin a discussion surrounding
parents as coaches of their children.
Over the past decade, there has been
burgeoning interest in understanding the
nature of parental involvement in youth
sport. Much attention has arisen from
concerns portrayed in the mainstream media
surrounding negative parental behaviour
(Lindstrom Bremer, 2012). To an extent,
many studies qualify this perspective. For
instance, several studies have revealed that
parents often articulate negative and critical
comments toward children during
competition (Bowker et al., 2009; Holt,
Tamminen, Black, Sehn, & Wall, 2008;
Shields, LaVoi, Bredemeier, & Power,
2007). Research has also found that parents
continue to overemphasise winning, criticise
and maintain unrealistic expectations for
their child (Gould, Lauer, Rolo, Jannes, &
Pennisi, 2006; Lauer, Gould, Roman, &
Pierce, 2010). It is also purported that many
parents demonstrate anger at youth sport
events by walking away from events in
annoyance, making offensive gestures and
intimidating other spectators (Elliott &
Drummond, 2015b; Goldstein & Iso-Ahola,
While such behaviours are clearly
concerning, parents can also imbue a
potentially negative impact through modes
of well-intentioned involvement. In other
words, parents can comprise a potential
source of stress and anxiety for children
through forms of involvement believed to
be supportive and appropriate. For example,
in some sport settings, parents regularly
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
provide advice to their child during the
breaks of play and debrief after competition
as a means of displaying support (Elliott &
Drummond, 2016). Yet these interactions
can unwittingly upset children and
exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety
associated with participation (Elliott &
Drummond, 2015a, 2016). Parents also have
the capacity to embarrass children by
displaying fanatical cheering and disruptive
behaviours such as waving and calling out
players’ names (Omli & Wiese-Bjornstal,
2011). Furthermore, parents can confuse
children if their verbal support during
competition is not matched by their non-
verbal behaviour (Knight, Neely, & Holt,
2011). These issues highlight the importance
of further investigating taken-for-granted
notions of parental involvement hidden
under the guise of well-intentioned
involvement. Failing to do so may
inadvertently contribute to heightening
stress and anxiety among youth participants,
which has been associated with decreasing
levels of enjoyment and motivation, and
potentially drop out from sport (Bois,
Lalanne, & Delforge, 2009). In contrast,
generating an understanding in this regard
could assist parents, coaches and
administrators improve the broader youth
sport experience and optimise the way that
parents support children’s sport.
One less understood aspect of well-
intentioned parental involvement surrounds
that of parents who coach their own
children. The coaching role represents a
conduit through which parents may believe
they can make a positive and substantial
contribution to their child’s sport. As
suggested in the opening vignette, however,
the dual role of parent/coach can be
challenging for the parent and child. This
line of inquiry is worth exploring further
given that coaches are a key determinant in
the enjoyment and motivation of youth
participants (Atkins, Johnson, Force, &
Petrie, 2014; Keegan, Harwood, Spray, &
Lavallee, 2009; Keegan, Spray, Harwood, &
Lavallee, 2010). To date however, limited
attention has been afforded to this aspect of
parental involvement in youth sport.
From the literature that is available,
studies have indicated that relationships
between parent/coaches and child/athletes
are not always positively experienced by
parents and children, resulting from highly
complex and challenging relationships
(Jowett, 2008; Jowett, Timson-Katchis, &
Adams, 2007; Schmid, Bernstein, Shannon,
Rishell, & Griffith, 2015; Weiss & Fretwell,
2005). Weiss and Fretwell (2005) suggest
that while benefits include spending time
together and sharing positive social
interactions, parent/coach-child/athlete
relationships can also be contentious and
conflict-laden, and lead to rebellious
behaviours among children. Jowett et al.
(2007) claim the dual role parent/coach-
child/athlete relationship has the potential
to ‘spill over’, whereby coach-athlete
conflict extends beyond sport and into the
parent-child relationship, and vice-versa (i.e.
coach-athlete). More recently, Schmid et al.
(2015) interviewed seven female tennis
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
players and found that conflicts between
parent/coaches and child/athletes can have
negative impacts on the family unit, and in
some cases, be characterised by abusive
parental behaviours and practices. They also
the ‘blurred boundaries’ child-athletes
experience including receiving criticism
from their father/coach without feeling put
down and having an incapacity to complain
to their parents about coaching issues.
Although these studies present some
insight, one limitation is that they largely
emerge from individual pursuits such as
tennis, track and field athletics and
swimming. With exception to Weiss and
Fretwell’s work, there remains a need to
examine wider sport settings including
parent/coaches involved in team sports.
Furthermore, these studies give inadequate
voice to parents in understanding their
experience of fulfilling dual roles. This
oversight is noteworthy given the
importance of understanding more about
parents own experiences in youth sport (Holt
& Knight, 2014). Noteworthy, knowledge
surrounding the nature and influence of
parent/coaches in youth sport reflects only
the US and UK context. An examination of
this role from underrepresented settings can
offer the literature a unique and much
needed contribution in pursuit of advancing
the knowledge base about parent/coaches.
For these reasons, there remain
fundamental methodological and conceptual
gaps within the extant literature that the
current paper will seek to address. This is
significant given that a vast majority of
parents are involved in youth sport as team
coach at some point in their child’s sport
development as it comprises a meaningful
and culturally significant role in the lives of
their own children (Coakley, 2006).
A sociocultural perspective
Although studies on sport-parenting
largely emerge from a sport psychology
perspective (for instance, Dorsch, Smith, &
McDonough, 2009; Keegan et al., 2010;
Knight, Little, Harwood, & Goodger, 2016;
Lauer et al., 2010), more diverse sociological
approaches have been adopted recently and
made important contributions to the
literature (Burgess, Knight, & Mellalieu,
2016; Elliott & Drummond, 2015b;
Stefansen, Smette, & Strandbu, 2016).
Elliott & Drummond (2015a) argue that
sociological approaches toward
understanding sport parenting issues is
particularly valuable because it progresses
research beyond a focus on what parents do.
Rather, it encourages one to consider wider
factors, which serve to explain why sport
parenting manifests in particular ways. For
instance, social constructionism is useful for
interpreting sport parenting research given
that meaning is influenced by shared
interactions between family, peers, history
and culture (Elliott & Drummond, 2015b).
This can include political, historical, social
and cultural imperatives, which reinforce
and maintain forms of parental involvement
in youth sport. An example surrounds the
socially constructed measures of ‘good
parenting’ which, at present, include
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
children’s participation and achievement in
sport (Coakley, 2006; Trussell & Shaw,
2012). Under these conditions, parents may
be influenced to involve themselves in
youth sport in ways that respond to broader
societal constructions, which for many
parents can include fulfilling the role of
team coach (Coakley, 2006).
Social constructionism therefore draws
attention to the way in which meaning is
constructed historically, culturally and
linguistically (Burr, 2003). This includes a
critical stance towards taken-for-granted
ways of understanding the world; cultural
and historical specificity; meaning and
knowledge sustained by social processes,
and; daily interactions and knowledge and
social action which invites a different kind
of action from human beings (Burr, 2003).
Understanding parental involvement may
therefore benefit from interrogating taken-
for-granted aspects of youth sport such as
parents in the coaching role. By considering
this phenomenon in the context of cultural
and historical specificity, and in association
with social processes, which reinforce a
particular kind of parental involvement, new
understanding is possible. Such an
approach, therefore, offers the literature a
nuanced focus on exploring how and why
parental involvement emerges as it does
within the context of organised youth sport.
This paper emerges from a larger
qualitative exploration of parental
involvement in a junior Australian football
setting (Australian football is colloquially
known as Australian Rules football, and
refers to Australia’s national football
sporting code. Australian football is a
contact sport possessing similar play
patterns to Gaelic Football and Rugby; see
Method for more details). In addressing the
aforementioned gap in the sport parenting
literature, the aim of this paper is to explore
the perceptions and experiences of parents
who coach their own child in junior
Australian football. Thus, in framing the
paper, two research questions are posed: (1)
What is the nature of the sport parenting
through the role of team coach? and (2)
How do parent/coaches negotiate the
relationship with their child as the team
The data presented within this paper are
drawn from a larger doctoral study, which
investigated the nature of parental influence
in junior Australian football. The original
study design was based on a multiple case
study methodology in which the bounded
systems were defined by three demographic
locations to explore the social phenomenon
of sport parenting in junior Australian
football in South Australia. As Sparkes and
Smith (2014) contend, case studies can be
jointly extended to several cases in order to
investigate a phenomenon, population or
general condition. In the original study, the
phenomenon, which sought to be
understood, surrounded parental influence
in the understudied sport setting of junior
Australian football. From the extensive data
collected, two unintended findings were
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
revealed including parental influence on
dietary patterns relating to children’s sport
(see Elliott, Velardo, Drummond, &
Drummond, 2016) and the experiences of
the contemporary parent/coach. The latter
represents an opportunistic, yet pertinent
by-product of the qualitative inquiry on an
understudied aspect of sport parenting,
leading to the conceptualization of this
Within the current paper, then, the basis
of the research is underpinned by a broader
sociocultural exploration and analysis of the
unintended findings surrounding the
experiences of the contemporary
parent/coach in junior Australian football.
This paper draws on data derived from
interviews with 16 parent/coaches from the
larger study. The participants reflect a
homogenous cohort based on (a) gender
(male only), (b) age group coached (under
12s or under 14s), (c) competition level
(local community), and (d) the age of their
children involved in sport (12-13 years;
Under 12s or Under 14s refers to the age
range of the players in the competition.
These grades are commonly referred to as
‘juniors’). However, they represented a
range of experiences and backgrounds in
Australian football as former players and
coaches at various levels of adult and youth
competitions. For instance, while all
parent/coaches had played Australian
football previously, four coaches had less
than one season (year) of coaching
experience in junior Australian football. In
contrast, the most experienced
parent/coach in the sample had coached
juniors for five seasons. Institutional ethics
approval was attained from a social and
behavioural ethics committee at an
Australian university.
With support from the South Australian
National Football League (SANFL), various
Australian football clubs from across South
Australia were identified to recruit
participants. This included clubs that fielded
junior teams at the time of the study. The
football clubs were contacted to assist the
recruitment process by making available
letters of interest and information sheets
relating to the study. Individuals interested
in becoming involved in the study emailed
the first author to register their contact
details and preferred availability. Once
sufficient interest was obtained, a schedule
for individual interviews was developed and
communicated to potential participants via
phone or email for consideration.
Parent/coaches who were available to be
involved in the study were asked to read and
sign a consent form to take part in the
Individual interviews were used for data
collection. One advantage of using
individual interviews is that they allow the
participant to lead the direction and pace of
the discussion (Smith & Caddick, 2012),
leading to the development of many
significant, and potentially unexpected
themes. Individual interviews are also an
inexpensive method for gathering rich,
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
descriptive, cumulative and elaborate data
(Lambert & Loiselle, 2008). Importantly,
and consistent with the epistemological
roots of social constructionism, interviews
enable participants greater opportunity to
reveal much more about the meanings they
attach to their experiences (Sparkes &
Smith, 2014). The individual interviews took
place in a variety of settings including the
sporting teams’ clubrooms or administration
offices. The individual interviews were
audio-recorded and lasted up to 90 minutes
(mean = 70 minutes; range = 45-90 minutes).
The interview questions (see Appendix
A) were based on common themes from the
literature and from semi-structured
questioning guides used in previous sport
parenting research (see Knight et al., 2011;
Weiss & Fretwell, 2005). This assisted in
conceptualising a preliminary interview
guide which was subsequently used to assist
the researcher adopt a particular line of
inquiry (Patton, 2002). The strength of
using an interview guide is that the
researcher is not constrained to ask
questions in exactly the same way to each
participant (Sparkes & Smith, 2014).
Questions were adjusted or reorganised to
compliment the nature of the interview (i.e.
simplifying words as necessary), allowing
both the researcher to collect important
information around the topic of interest and
the participant the opportunity to report on
their own thoughts and feelings. This
approach elicited open discussions about
the topic of parental influence in the junior
Australian football experience, but did not
necessarily limit participants from discussing
other topics. If a topic emerged and was
deemed relevant to the overall research, it
was discussed until participants felt that they
had adequately addressed the issue, in
conjunction with the researcher’s belief that
probing and follow-up techniques were no
longer necessary (Patton, 2002).
The audio-recorded data were
transcribed verbatim by the lead author and
thematically analysed following the steps
described by Smith and Caddick (2012) as
immersion, code generation, theme
identification, theme review, theme labelling
and definition and reporting of themes. The
lead researcher completed repeat readings of
each transcript for familiarisation purposes
before undertaking a process of indexing as
part of an open coding process. A second
stage of code interpretation was then
undertaken to produce analytically stronger
categories and potential sub-themes. Finally,
the codes from all transcripts were
examined collectively to enhance the
analytical strength of the emergent themes
from within the case study (Yin, 2003). This
process involved comparing and contrasting
codes leading to the consolidation of highly
elaborate and rich themes relating to
parental involvement in youth sport.
Pseudonyms were used to conceal
participants’ identity, and the identity of
their affiliated football team and league,
In judging the quality and excellence of
this qualitative study, the authors adopted a
number of means, practices and methods as
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
suggested by Tracy (2010) including the
appropriate and complex use of theoretical
constructs as well as data and time in the
field, reflexivity and resonance. The lead
researcher spent three months in the field
collecting data across various junior
Australian football contexts and with
purposefully selected samples, avoiding
what Tracy (2010) describes as convenience,
opportunism, and ‘the easy way out’.
Excellence was also practiced by employing
care in collecting and analysing data. More
traditional techniques were adopted in this
regard including member checking, but
utilised in a way to assist the lead researcher
in the process of co-constructing meaning.
All participants received the original
transcript and final findings in textual form
and invited to clarify or walk back data by
contacting the lead author. Throughout this
process, no changes were required
according to the 16 parent/coaches.
However, the member checking process
promoted an additional opportunity for the
lead author to re-engage the data and in
doing so, enhance the interpretive process
in keeping with a constructionist
epistemology. Reflexivity was practiced as
‘intersubjective reflection’ (Sparkes & Smith,
2014) throughout the research process
including question design, data coding and
data analysis. The second author (who was
depicted in the opening vignette) fulfilled a
vital role a critical friend throughout the
research process to promote intersubjective
reflection by acting as a sounding board and
provoking the lead researcher to question
their own position and presence in the
research. They also played an important role
in critical debriefing with the lead author
during data collection. Finally, resonance in
the research findings is self-evident in its (at
times) evocative representation to influence
and move the reader/s. Combined, these
criteria characterised the hallmarks of
methodological rigour or ‘excellence’ for the
current study.
From the outset, and similar to the
work of Schmid et al. (2015), the authors
seek to remind readers that it was not their
intention to negatively portray the ensuing
results about the experiences of being a
parent in the coaching role. Although
previous studies have illuminated both
positive and negative aspects of the dual
parent/coach experience (i.e. Weiss &
Fretwell, 2005), and despite the researcher’s
best efforts during data collection, there
were clearly substantive views among all
parent/coaches in the current study which
gravitated toward the negative and often
difficult nature of being the coach of a team
sport that involved their children.
Within each interview, all
parent/coaches described enjoyment with
being involved in junior Australian football
and a desire to continue coaching into the
future. While it reaffirmed a favourite
pastime for parent/coaches, it also provided
a meaningful opportunity to pursue a hobby
that benefits so many children. As one
participant noted, ‘it’s just magic seeing the
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
kids, willing to learn’. However, and similar
to the opening vignette, the main discussion
point for parents in the coaching role
revolved around the troubling experiences
of coaching a team that included their own
child. Figure 1 portrays the difficult and
often confronting aspects perceived by
parents in their role as team coach, leading
to the conceptualization of three main
themes including (1) deliberate criticism, (2)
limited recognition, and (3) justifications for
behaviour. These themes elucidate the ‘fine
line’ parent/coaches navigate in youth sport.
Deliberate criticism
A prominent challenge for all
parent/coaches was negotiating external
perceptions of favouritism. In cultivating
the image of a ‘fair’ coach, most (14)
participants discussed the need to
intentionally provide their child with
‘harsher’ feedback during the season in
contrast to other children. They claimed
that in doing so during training and in
games, external perceptions of favouritism
could be visibly and, audibly, addressed.
While recognising that this was not
necessarily a supportive parenting practice
in junior Australian football, it was regarded
as important in order to allay others’
perceptions of nepotism between the child
and coach. As one parent/coach explains:
Brian: I’ve had the conversation with
my son before I started coaching and it was
like ‘look I am going to be harder on you
this year than any other kid because I’d
prefer another kid’s parents come up to me
and say that I am being a bit hard on you
than say that I am favouring you’ sort of
thing. I had the comment made by my
grandmother after he’d been around for a
visit and it was like ‘I had a chat with
Brandon about his footy and he said about
you being harder on him that the rest of the
team’. She said ‘I couldn’t believe he went
down that path’ but I am glad I did because
it wasn’t something that I could really
change! I had that idea right off the bat,
how I’d have to do it [coach] to at least, sort
of look like I was being fair sort of thing.
During the season, most
parent/coaches demonstrated deliberate
criticism in the context of training. They
noted that some children do not cope well
with being ‘singled out’ at training.
However, their responsibility to develop
players’ skill and game understanding meant
that on occasions, there was a need to make
an example out of players. Under these
conditions, parent/coaches often resorted
to highlighting mistakes and errors made by
their own child for the benefit of others.
This drew a clear contrast in the way that
parent/coaches treated other children.
Billy: We’ve got one kid who cannot
kick for nuts but he will get one right every
so often so you praise him up on the ones
he gets right. You don’t bag him for the
ones he messes up, but I do with my own
son. I am tough on him, I don’t know why;
I am just tough on Paul.
These comments are noteworthy
because they seemingly contradict coaches’
endeavour to treat all children fairly.
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
However, as one parent/coach noted, being
‘harder’ on their own child was often
balanced by opportunities at home to clarify
and explain deliberate criticisms
communicated at training. Subsequently,
parent/coaches regularly synthesised critical
comments made during training into more
encouraging feedback after training.
Chris: Yeah, I can be negative. I’ll pull
him aside and tell him why I did it, you
know. I’ll give him a hard time in front of
everyone but the reason I gave him a hard
time, I’ll tell him after, sort of thing, and
often he’ll agree and then like tonight, he’s
jumping all over me again.
Most parent/coaches stated that their
children understood the complexity of
being a parent in the coaching role because
they had experienced this relationship in
past junior Australian football seasons. For
one parent/coach however, a recent
conversation with his son suggests that
children perceive deliberate forms of
criticism in different ways than
Frank: I did get picked up by my young
fella when I was driving him home the other
week. He said ‘why do you always pick out
me every time something goes wrong? I’ll
drop the mark and you will have a go at me,’
and I said ‘I’ve just got high expectations
for you, but you know I’ve said that to
others.’ And he said ‘No, you’ve said that
more to me!’
Limited recognition
To further address concerns around
favouritism, parent/coaches limited formal
displays of encouragement and recognition
by overlooking their child when
determining weekly best player awards.
Selecting a recipient for the weekly best
player award represented a conduit through
which parent/coaches argued their
credibility as a ‘fair’ coach was being tested
in the eyes of other parents and children.
Consequently, choosing an award winner
for best player typically involved
overlooking their own child’s performance
regardless of how they played.
Ray: I have to be very careful that I
don’t favour him you know, giving out best
players and stuff. You have got to be aware
of that. You tend to be harder on them than
the rest of the boys sometimes. It’s a hard
boundary there where you can be too tough
on your own kids because you’re the coach
and parent as well, it’s sort of hard to draw
the line. You are probably harder on your
own kids than the other kids, especially with
giving out best players and stuff like that!
The decision to deliberately limit the
amount of formal recognition their child
received was predicated by a need to
encourage all players throughout the regular
season as part of a broader developmental
responsibility. The weekly awards were
described as ‘a really important part’ of
encouraging players to persist with sport,
especially novice and under-age players.
However, this was especially difficult for
parent/coaches who perceived their child to
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
be a consistently high performing player
across the season. For them, the decision to
deliberately overlook their child often
resulted in temporary feelings of guilt.
Daniel: We (parent/coaches) are harder
on our own kids as a coach than you are on
other kids… but you sort of feel a bit guilty
that the best player is not getting an award.
Two parent/coaches who described
their children as ‘gun’ players particularly
struggled with the awards process. They
discussed times when they wanted to
recognise their child with an award because
they deserved it, but did not want to fuel
external perceptions of father-son
favouritism. Consequently, a surreptitious
rotational system was adopted whereby all
players received the best player award across
the course of the season as a way of
managing perceptions. Other
encouragement awards such as ‘most
courageous’ and ‘most improved’ were
subsequently used to reward the players
who were adjudged as the better
performers, independent from the rotation
system. Dale, a parent/coach describes:
Dale: A lot of the time, generally when I
pick the best players, I try and rotate best
players first then the last few spots, try and
fill with some fellas who had good games
you know. Like I said before, we’re
probably harder on our own kids as a
coaching aspect than you are on other kids,
you’re trying to encourage them to keep
going, you sort of probably lean away a bit
from the better kids, even your own kid,
which makes it hard giving out best player. I
don’t know, I’ve never had any feedback
from anybody to say they’re disgruntled or
anything, but yeah.
One exception to this perspective came
from a parent/coach who regularly gave
their child the weekly best player award
based on the perception that they were ‘by
far and away’ the best player in the team.
Toby: I have seen other coaches that are
extremely hard on their own kids but I don’t
think I am too bad when it comes to giving
out the best player awards because he (my
son) is just about the best player in the side
so it is quite often you handing him best
player. You do get a bit of jealousy though -
it can be an issue.
Encouragement awards therefore
comprised an important conduit for
parent/coaches to demonstrate differential
treatment toward their child in youth sport.
Although the scope of this paper does not
illuminate children’s perceptions and
experiences of this form of parental
influence through the coaching role, it does
highlight a potentially conflicting
proposition for parents.
Justifying behaviour
The other pertinent theme that emerged
in the analysis surrounded parent/coach
justifications for deliberate criticism and
limited encouragement toward their child.
Although they acknowledged that, ‘it’s not
over the top or nothing’, a key reason for
maintaining this behaviour related to
concerns about how they might be
perceived by other parents and children.
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
Most parent/coaches had previously
encountered instances of conflict with other
parents about playing time, which for
parent/coaches, was interpreted as an
accusation of favouritism.
Barry: I have had a few pop into me
about why isn’t their boy on the ground. It’s
very difficult to give them all a go but
during this one game, she sort of came up
to me and confronted me and said ‘Why
isn’t he on the field? I am going to take him
to another club!’ Yelling at me sort of you
do get a bit of that sort of thing.
In more serious cases, some
parent/coaches had even discovered being
criticised on social media.
Paulo: Well I had a mother last month
getting on Facebook and bagging me. She
was getting on Facebook and saying that I
was a bad influence by not teaching the kids
how to lose and that was bit hard to take on
board for me. A friend of my wife’s actually
rang up and said ‘do you know this is going
on?’ and I said ‘No, I have got no idea.’ It
went on for a few days. Her and her partner
had a child in my team, a young lad. What
did I do? I finished up, I stewed over it, I
was pretty gutted, and like I said earlier, I
was angry. I was more disappointed you
know, I felt like I had done the wrong thing
and you start to second-guess yourself. It
sort of gutted me a bit.
Subsequently, displaying differential
treatment toward their own child played an
important role in alleviating concerns
around favouritism for parent/coaches.
Parent/coaches claimed that this had the
potential to communicate to other parents
their intentions to avoid favouritism and in
doing so, reduce potential confrontations
with parents in the future. As one father
stated, ‘that’s the way it has to be! [You]
would rather be a bit harder on your own
kid than having a parent have a go at ya’.
Another expressed ‘I treat him the same as
any other kid, maybe a little harder. There’s
no favouritism there whatsoever. It doesn’t
matter that he’s my son’. However, it also
had the potential to send a message to
players about discipline. Most
parent/coaches claimed that children at this
age (12 years) were prone to ‘messing
around’, rendering many parent/coaches
feeling reduced to a ‘glorified babysitter’
role instead of team coach. As a result, it
was sometimes considered necessary to
discipline the team and individuals to
control children’s behaviour and maximise
the benefits of a structured training session.
Yet, disciplining young footballers was also
perceived as a difficult proposition because
it had the potential to provoke further
conflict with parents. Therefore, to address
this, many (nine) coaches ‘made an example’
of their own child at the start of the season
to ‘set the tone’ for others.
Rick: As much as you want kids to
enjoy it, there’s not a lot of point playing
chasey for an hour if they just want
enjoyment. There has got to be some footy
aspect to it and there has got to be some
discipline involved and it has got to start
with my kid, like when the coach talks, you
have got to listen. For example, if they are
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
not doing the right thing and I give it to
him, send him to do a lap, yell at him or
whatever… make an example!
In summary, parent/coaches frequently
limit recognition of their own child and
make attempts to criticise their own child as
the team coach. Parent/coaches also justify
their behaviour in pursuit of avoiding
negative perceptions that revolve around
favouritism. This notion was aptly
summarised by an experienced
parent/coach: ‘It doesn’t matter that he’s
my son, that’s behind us’.
The aim of this paper was to explore the
perceptions and experiences of parents who
coach their own child in junior Australian
football. Specifically, the paper sought to (a)
understand the nature of the sport parenting
role through the role of team coach and (b)
explore how parent/coaches negotiate the
relationship with coaching their child in a
team sport.
The findings of the current study offer
an important insight into the experience of
being a parent/coach in contemporary
youth sport. Specifically, they reveal a
tendency for parent/coaches to overlook
their own child when determining best
player awards and display deliberate and
targeted criticism toward them during
training and games. Weiss and Fretwell
(2005) also reported that parent/coaches
can demonstrate differential attention to
their own children, however, the current
findings also reveal reasons why differential
treatment is a sustained practice for parents
who coach their own child. In particular, the
notion of favouritism appears to be an
influential factor confronting
parent/coaches involved in youth sport.
Their desire to avoid being perceived as a
parent/coach who demonstrates favour
offered the strongest justification for
sustaining critical and discouraging parental
behaviours in the coaching role.
Subsequently, the findings extend previous
studies which have highlighted the complex
and challenging aspects of the dual
parent/coach role for parents and children
(Jowett, 2008; Jowett et al., 2007) by
illuminating how parent/coaches rationalize
their behaviour under the guise of team
From a sport parenting perspective, the
findings add weight to the literature
suggesting that well-intentioned parental
involvement in youth sport can be
problematic (Elliott & Drummond, 2016;
Knight et al., 2011). Although pressuring,
abusive and violent behaviour are widely
regarded as negative aspects of involvement,
parents can also exert a negative influence in
less obtrusive ways (Elliott & Drummond,
2015a). For instance, fulfilling the coaching
role is a prominent way for parents to
become positively involved in their child’s
sport (Jeffery-Tosoni et al., 2015). However,
the findings indicate that involvement as
parent/coach can often result in deliberate
criticism and limited forms of support for
their children. Given that children struggle
to accept criticism from parents in coaching
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
roles without feeling put down (Schmid et
al., 2015), being a parent/coach clearly has
the potential to cause conflict, which
appears counterintuitive in seeking to
enhance and optimize parental involvement
in youth sport (Holt & Knight, 2014;
Knight & Holt, 2014).
From a social constructionist
standpoint, it is possible to explore what
might be leading to parents’ involvement in
this way. For instance, it is arguable that
deliberate criticism and limited
encouragement manifest from previous
observations and interactions with
parent/coaches. After all, social
constructionists acknowledge that social
meaning is influenced by interactions with
the surrounding world (Burr, 2003). Parents
may therefore rearticulate behaviours and
experiences observed from their own
childhood and/or perpetuate practices
observed from other parents fulfilling the
coaching role in contemporary youth sport.
One consequence is that parent/coaches
not only learn to espouse behaviours, which
adhere to socially constructed ideals of
being a parent/coach, they also learn to
defend such behaviour. This is a dangerous
notion because it can normalize parenting
practices that have the potential to
disadvantage their own child in youth sport
via limiting recognition and increasing
criticism. This may explain why instances of
undesirable parenting practices continue to
pervade the youth sport setting, evident
through the dual role of parent/coach.
While the findings offer an important
contribution to the literature, they should be
interpreted with some caution. Indeed, the
findings reflect the voices of an entire
cohort of male participants within a specific,
yet understudied, sport setting in junior
Australian football. This is perhaps
reflective of Australian football as a hyper-
masculinized sport setting whereby fathers
feel more comfortable engaging in child
rearing practices. Nonetheless, mothers who
identify as parent/coaches remain virtually
unrepresented in the literature, and yet may
offer a critically important dimension to
discussions about the dual parent/coach
role in youth sport. The other noteworthy
limitation is that the findings may not offer
applicability to other team sport settings.
Parent/coaches involved in pre-elite and
talent development settings may experience
heightened pressure and scrutiny from other
parents and intensify the nature of their
interactions with their child as a result.
Similarly, the experiences of being a
parent/coach may differ according to the
age group they coach. Therefore, while the
findings illustrate the experience of being a
parent/coach, more academic attention is
certainly warranted.
Based on the conceptual ideas and
findings presented within this paper, a
number of important implications are
offered. One consideration is for sport
organisations to consider that while
parent/coaches may be influenced by a
range of social, cultural and linguistic
interactions, they too comprise a reinforcing
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
influence for others seeking to negotiate the
dual role in the future. Therefore, and even
if children are undeterred by
parent/coaches’ behaviour (a concept
beyond the scope of this study worthy of
pursuing), there remains a need to continue
to support parents to optimise their
involvement in youth sport (Knight & Holt,
2014). This is especially important given
that there are very few coaching options
available in many junior Australian football
settings, and we suspect across other
sporting domains too. Additional support
and strategies might include the
development of programs and training
designed to improve parent/coaches
communicative and pedagogical skills with
their own child in team sport. Sporting
organisations could also support
parent/coaches develop skills to manage
how they cope with their fears about
external perceptions of favouritism by
encouraging more frequent ‘meet and greet’
training sessions for parents and children.
Such an approach has been recommended
previously (see Omli & LaVoi, 2012) as a
strategy to reduce parental anger at youth
sport events, but it may also provide
parent/coaches a valuable opportunity to
work with more experienced coaches in
leading a brief seminar with other parents to
enhance the relationship between parents
and coaches (Smoll, Cumming, & Smith,
2011). Furthermore, sporting organisations
could develop their own strategies to
positively influence the way that all coaches
(including parent/coaches) are perceived via
social media, weekly newsletters and email.
By supporting parent/coaches in this
regard, they may feel more adequate in their
capacity to coach and worry less about
disadvantaging their child to enhance their
image as a fair coach. Finally, and from a
research perspective, scholars are
encouraged to continue investigating not
only aspects of youth sport parenting which
are ostensibly problematic, but also the
taken-for-granted aspects, which are
‘hidden’ under the guise of ‘encouraging’
and ‘supportive’ involvement. Following the
lead of the current study, there may be great
value in exploring other roles that parents
fulfil such as official, team manager and
even elite sport settings where the
parent/coach and child-athlete relationship
may conceivably intensify.
This study highlights the experience of
parents who coach their own children in
junior Australian football. The findings
reveal the ways through which
parent/coaches exert differential treatment
toward their child as a mechanism for
negotiating how others perceive them.
From a sport parenting perspective, this is
significant because it underlines another
aspect of well-intentioned parental
involvement whereby parents have a high
capacity to demonstrate potentially
undesirable behaviours toward children.
However, improving these interactions are
somewhat contingent upon challenging
notions of favouritism and the way in which
parent/coaches are socially constructed.
Importantly, this paper highlights a growing
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
need for sport parenting research to
investigate all aspects of parental
involvement in youth sport those that are
clearly problematic as well as those, which
are deemed supportive and constructed as
well-intentioned forms of sport parenting.
In pursuit of enhancing the youth sport
experience and the vital roles parents fulfil,
this cannot be understated.
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
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Table 1
Participant Information
Grade coached
Under 12
Under 12
Under 12/Under 14
Under 12
Under 12
Under 14
Under 12/Under 14
Under 12
Under 14
Under 12
Under 12
Under 14
Under 14
Under 12
Under 12
Under 12
Journal of Amateur Sport Special Issue: Family Issues Elliott & Drummond, 2017
Figure 1
A coding tree leading to the construction of three main themes surrounding the experience of parents in the
coaching role.
Limited recognition
Award rotation policy
Sources of recognition and
‘Best or nothing’ attitude
The need to recognise others
External perceptions of
Deliberate criticism
Harsher feedback
Predetermined approach
Make an example in front of
Explaining criticism at home
Public humiliation
Training specific criticism
Game specific criticism
Justifying behaviour
Fears about external
Desire to portray fairness
Avoiding face-to-face parental
Avoiding indirect parental
Avoiding perceptions of
Sends message to playing
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The aim of this study was to examine the challenges of being either a parent–coach or a child–athlete of a coach within the context of Swedish youth sport. Conceptually, this paper draws on educational and sociological theories regarding changing perspectives in child-rearing. The results are based on data gathered from interviews with parent–coaches and child–athletes (age 13–15) of coaches involved in team sports. The results indicate that a range of meanings emerged through these unique sets of interactions, resulting in both positive and negative experiences for both children and their parents. To manage the perceived challenges, four behavioural strategies were used including fairness, distancing, defence and quitting. Overall, this study provides a deeper understanding of the challenges of these unique dual roles in relation to contemporary child-rearing perspectives.
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The interpersonal dynamics of the parent/coach-child/athlete relationship were explored in the context of family change as this pertains to the athlete's transition into and through adolescence. A single dyad participated in the study whose parent/coach-child/athlete relationship commenced approximately at the onset of the athlete's adolescence and experienced performance success during a period of seven years of partnership. Data were collected utilising two parallel interview schedules and analysed employing a combination of content and narrative analyses. The dyad described both the coach-athlete relationship and the parent-child relationship in positive terms. However, analysis revealed that the dyad experienced difficulties in co-ordinating their dual roles and expressed a sense of dislike toward each others behaviours. The child/athlete reported conflict more often than her parent/coach. The results of this study are discussed considering relevant theory and research on parent-child relationships during adolescence.
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Problems surrounding parental involvement in youth sport have received much attention in the international academic community. Most of the focus has surrounded the frequency and nature of parental verbal behaviour such as criticism, swearing and abuse. While such behaviour has the potential to exert a negative influence in youth sport, little is known about the socially constructed meaning of parental verbal behaviour. In other words, there is a current lack of understanding surrounding the social significance (or lack thereof) of parental comments, criticisms and abuse in the context of youth sport. Addressing this oversight is important given that parents and youth do not always share a common appreciation of parental involvement in sport. This paper reports on a study which sought to generate a greater understanding of parental involvement in the junior Australian football experience. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with parents and youth participants (n = 86) currently involved in a competitive Australian football season. Data were manually transcribed verbatim and subjected to a thematic analysis. The findings reveal how parents and youth attribute different social meaning to parental verbal behaviour during play, the breaks and the drive home. While youth appear to experience parental verbal behaviour in polarising ways, parents rationalise their own verbal behaviour and in doing so, contribute to a broader social reproduction of sport parenting behaviour
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As part of an ethnographic study on young people and learning (the knowledge in motion across contexts of learning project, set in Norway), we interviewed a diverse sample of parents of young teenagers, many of whom were active in organized sports. The parents described their level of involvement in sport in a way that contrasted sharply to our own experiences participating in youth sports in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then most parents were absent from the sports fields. This new role of sports in the practice of parenthood is what we investigate in this study. The purpose is to further the understanding of the cultural processes that drive what we see as a marked generational change in the relationship between organized sports and the practice of parenthood. In contrast to previous studies, we also focus on the relationship between generational change and classed patterns in parenting. Our data suggest that across social classes, parents see involvement in sports as normal, and as a way to connect to the child emotionally and to further the child’s development. We interpret the significance of sports in the parent–child relationship as related both to the normalization of youth sports that the parents experienced when they grew up, and to the new cultural ideas of parenthood that they encounter as adults. We find that there are tensions embedded in this new form of parenthood that are particularly evident in what we call ‘deep involvement’, an intensified form of parental engagement with youth sports that is practiced primarily by fathers in the economic fraction of the middle class. We conclude that the new role of sport in the practice of parenthood is a classed as well as a generational phenomenon.
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The aim of this study was to examine elite youth athletes' views on parental involvement in training, competition, and at home. Eight canoeists were interviewed up to four times and completed written diaries over a 6-week period. Results indicated that parents were generally deemed to have a positive influence through domain specific and cross-domain behaviors. Positive behaviors included parents focusing on their children's holistic development at home, motivational and constructive evaluation at training, and limiting demands on athletes through the provision of practical support, reading and understanding the situation and their child, and supporting the development of growth mindset across all domains.
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It is well documented that parents can comprise a significant positive influence in the youth sport setting. Parents are often acknowledged for providing support and encouragement in addition to the necessary financial and logistical support that enables sporting opportunities. However, there is also a concern that parents possess the potential to negatively influence the participatory experience. While this sociocultural phenomenon has received much academic attention in the international community, the impact of sport policy on parental behaviour has been largely overlooked. This paper is one of several to emerge from a larger qualitative study on parental influence in the junior Australian football experience in South Australia. Drawing upon rich qualitative data derived from focus groups and individual interviews with parents (n = 34), children (n = 52) and coaches (n = 16), this paper examines their attitudes and perceptions toward the code of conduct in junior Australian football. The results indicate that wider social and cultural imperatives can impact the meaning and significance of the code of conduct policy for encouraging positive parental behaviour. The implications for sport providers and policy-makers include a consideration for adopting a ‘top-down’ approach to address issues of parental behaviour in children’s and youth sport.
There is a widely held belief that sport participation inherently enhances health among children and youth. Such a perception often motivates parents to encourage children’s initial and ongoing involvement in organised sport and physical activity. While sport certainly comprises an important vehicle for accruing physical activity, the sport environment may not necessarily enhance other health-related behaviours, including dietary practices. The literature identifies the influence of the physical environment in this regard, including the availability of energy-dense nutrient-poor foods in sport settings. In considering additional influences on children’s nutrition in a sporting context, the role of parents is less understood. This is the first paper to emerge from a larger qualitative study, in which the basis of the investigation was to explore parental influence in the junior Australian football context. The naturalistic manner of qualitative inquiry led to a number of unintended yet highly pertinent emergent themes, including the role of parents in maintaining and reinforcing some contentious dietary behaviours among children post weekend sport. Drawing on individual interviews and focus groups with parents, children and coaches (n=102), this paper discusses the role of parents in reinforcing a ‘food-as-reward’ culture in the junior Australian football setting, which challenges the notion that sport is inextricably ‘good’ for health. The findings indicate that while parents play a vital role in promoting good nutrition in the lead up to weekend sport, they also reinforce a culture that fosters unhealthy dietary practices in the post-game setting. This gives rise to the notion that we, in this paper, have coined the ‘binge-purge’ paradox. This paper discusses the implications of this health issue in relation to the ‘sport for health’ rhetoric, and in broader society and culture.