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Abstract

Objectives The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the relations of having a child involved in youth sport and primary (i.e., parent that knows the child best) and secondary parents' mental health. Design Parents from Wave 7 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children reported their child's involvement in organised youth sport and self-reported measures of mental health. A total of 3192 primary (M = 43.04 years, SD = 8.75), and 2794 secondary (M = 46.13 years, SD = 6.16) parents of adolescent children were enrolled in the study. To investigate differences by type of sport participation, sport participation was grouped into one of four categories: non-participation; individual sport only; team sport only; both team and individual sport. Measures of days per week and hours per day of participation were also used to examine the relationship between sport participation and parental mental health. Results Parents with adolescents involved in organised sport reported more life stress, more time pressure, and less psychological distress than parents of non-athletes. Stronger effects appeared in primary parents in comparison to secondary parents. Conclusion The findings suggest an important relationship with respect to having a child involved in organised sport and parents' mental health. We encourage future scholars to explore potential protective mechanisms' (e.g., opportunities to socialise) of having a child in youth sport for the benefit of parents' mental health.
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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Youth sport participation and parental mental health
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Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2020.101832
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© 2020. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0
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license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
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Date of submission: June 5, 2020
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Date of resubmission: October 14, 2020
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Date of acceptance: October 20, 2020
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Word count: 5371
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Reference word count: 1459
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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Abstract
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Objectives: The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the relations of having a
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child involved in youth sport and primary (i.e., parent that knows the child best) and
28
secondary parents’ mental health.
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Design: Parents from Wave 7 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children reported their
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child’s involvement in organised youth sport and self-reported measures of mental health. A
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total of 3192 primary (M = 43.04 years, SD = 8.75), and 2794 secondary (M = 46.13 years,
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SD = 6.16) parents of adolescent children were enrolled in the study. To investigate
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differences by type of sport participation, sport participation was grouped into one of four
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categories: non-participation; individual sport only; team sport only; both team and individual
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sport. Measures of days per week and hours per day of participation were also used to
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examine the relationship between sport participation and parental mental health.
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Results: Parents with adolescents involved in organised sport reported more life stress, more
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time pressure, and less psychological distress than parents of non-athletes. Stronger effects
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appeared in primary parents in comparison to secondary parents.
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Conclusion: The findings suggest an important relationship with respect to having a child
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involved in organised sport and parents’ mental health. We encourage future scholars to
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explore potential protective mechanisms’ (e.g., opportunities to socialise) of having a child in
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youth sport for the benefit of parents’ mental health.
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Keywords: organised sport, youth sport parents, psychological distress, time pressure, life
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stress
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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Introduction
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Youth sport is among the most popular leisure activities worldwide (Aubert et al.,
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2018). For that reason, researchers in the field of positive youth development (PYD; Lerner et
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al., 2009) have sought to understand how sport participation can foster positive
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developmental outcomes among participants. Until now, PYD researchers have focused on
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the relations between youth sport and physical, social, psychological, and academic outcomes
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among athletes (see Eime et al., 2013; Holt et al., 2017). More recently, however, mental
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health has become one of the primary outcomes of concern to youth sport researchers (Vella,
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2019). Indeed, this recent attention has resulted in multiple position statements around athlete
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mental health through sport (e.g., International Olympic Committee, Reardon et al., 2019;
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International Society of Sport Psychology, Schinke et al., 2018). We argue that equal
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attention should be paid to the mental health of parents in youth sport, as they assume many
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roles in youth sport, including supporter, provider, coach, and administrator (Knight et al.,
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2016).
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As a result of the demands of having a child in youth sport, parents may experience a
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range of organisational, competitive, and developmental stressors (Harwood & Knight, 2009,
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b; Hayward et al., 2017; Harwood et al., 2019; Lienhart et al., 2019). Organisational stressors
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include the daily logistical demands of having children enrolled in sport, such as being the
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primary method of transportation, covering the increasingly high financial costs, and
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managing their child’s injuries (Dorsch et al., 2009; Garst et al., 2019; Harwood et al., 2019).
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For example, Canadian ice-hockey mothers highlighted the stress and psychological ill-being
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that can manifest from the time pressure and competing life demands (e.g., family meals,
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physical activity) that result from participation in competitive youth sport (Bean et al., 2019).
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Competitive stressors include demands that fall in and around competition, such as match
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preparation, managing interactions with others, and providing appropriate feedback to their
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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child (Harwood & Knight, 2009). In fact, parents have experienced anxiety and
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embarrassment as a result of their child’s performance (Dorsch et al., 2009) and their child
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being the center of attention (Peter, 2011). Developmental stressors encompass the demands
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related to their child’s personal development and future endeavours in sport (Harwood et al.,
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2019). As an example, McFadden and colleagues (2016) found that parents reported more ill-
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being when their child specialised earlier (i.e., before the age of 12) compared to children
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who continued sport sampling. Similarly, Harwood and Knight (2009a) found that parents
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experience more time and family-related stress with children in the specialising stage due to
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the additional competition and training sessions. In sum, this body of literature is important
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because negative parental experiences in sport can manifest further negative outcomes in
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parents, athletes, and coaches (e.g., Anderson et al., 2003; Jowett & Timson-Katchis, 2008).
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In contrast, parents have also reported benefits as a result of their child’s participation
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in youth sport (Wiersma & Fifer, 2008). Parents with children in sport often extend their
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social networks (Legg et al., 2015), strengthen relationships with their children and their
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spouse (Clarke et al., 2016; Stefansen et al., 2018), experience pride and enjoyment from
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watching their child compete (Peter, 2011), and even experience improvements with time
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management (Dorsch et al., 2009) and motivation to exercise (Eriksson et al., 2008). Specific
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to peer relationships, parents that are involved in the same sport team hold baseline levels of
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trust, cooperation, and willingness to help one another (Brown, 2014). In fact, parents have
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reported sport as one of their only opportunities to interact with others outside of the family
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unit, highlighting the salience of peer interactions for parents’ mental health (Bean et al.,
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2019). Despite the mixed evidence regarding parents’ emotional experiences in youth sport, it
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is clear that youth sport impacts the wellbeing of parents.
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Furthermore, noteworthy findings have been documented with respect to how parents’
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roles and level of involvement influence their experience in sport (Clarke et al., 2016). From
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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a role perspective, parents that serve as the primary source of sport preparation (e.g., meals,
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sports kit laundering) and transportation may experience more stress and time pressure (Bean
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et al., 2019), although may also appreciate the additional opportunities to interact and connect
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with their child (Clarke et al., 2016; Stefansen et al., 2018). With regard to differences in
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involvement, parents in Wolfenden & Holt (2005) discussed a ‘divide-and-conquer’ approach
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for sport activities, whereby one parent focused on one child’s sport participation while the
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other parent managed the remaining children. Moreover, some highly involved parents have
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reported attending most if not all of their child’s practices and games and consider sport as
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the primary context for interacting with their child (Stefansen et al., 2018). As such, the
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nature and scope of parents’ individual involvement and assumed roles may have important
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implications for their experience, and in turn, their mental health.
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As it stands, the evidence is mixed with respect to the parental experience in youth
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sport and has been predominantly driven by qualitative inquiry. Quantitative investigation
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would complement the existing evidence by allowing an investigation of correlates of parent
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well- and ill-being in sport. For example, quantitative contextual variables such as sport dose
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(e.g., number of days and hours dedicated to youth sport per week) or differences in sport
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type (i.e., individual or team sport) may serve to be important predictors of parental well-
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being. Lastly, considering that parents differ with respect to their roles and subsequent
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involvement in youth sport, exploring outcome differences among primary and secondary
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parents is critical. A quantitative investigation of this sort will open the door for researchers
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interested in parental mental health in sport.
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The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the relations of having a child
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involved in youth sport and primary and secondary parents’ mental health. We apply a broad
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conceptualization of parental mental health relating to mental illness, wellbeing and sub-
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clinical issues such as stress. We therefore explore outcomes of psychological distress,
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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perceived life stress, and time pressure. Further, we will explore whether child sex and
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parents’ neighbourhood socioeconomic position moderates the relationship between their
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involvement in their child’s sport and mental health outcomes. Considering the exploratory
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nature of the current study, and lack of quantitative evidence regarding youth sport parents’
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mental health, we did not propose specific a priori hypotheses.
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Methods
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Participants
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All data were drawn from Wave 7 of the Birth cohort (B-cohort) of the Longitudinal
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Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Participants were stratified and then randomly selected
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and invited to participate from the nation’s largest database (the Medicare database).
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Beginning in 2004, LSAC has collected data regarding children and parents’ health from
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birth (Wave 1, B-cohort), with follow-up data collected every two years. The current study
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includes data from 9367 participants (3381 adolescents, 5986 parents). Adolescents in the
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current study were between the ages of 12 14 years (M = 12.48 years, SD = 0.51) and were
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nearly equal across males and females (N = 3381;1734 males, 1647 females). With respect to
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parents, the LSAC collects data from the study child’s primary and secondary parent. Primary
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parents are defined as the guardian that knows the study child best
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. In the current study, 94%
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of primary parents were mothers (N = 3192; M = 43.04 years, SD = 8.75). Secondary parents
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were 96% male and 4% female (N = 2794; M = 46.13 years, SD = 6.16). The primary and
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secondary parent lived together with the study child in 82.6% of cases. Finally, biological
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mothers lived in the same household as their child in 96% of cases, whereas biological fathers
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lived with the study child in 76.2% of cases.
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Definitions provided for ‘primary parent’ and ‘secondary parent’ was taken directly from
the LSAC. Parents’ degree of involvement in youth sport activities was not a primary interest
within the LSAC, and therefore these definitions are limited as such. Parents self-identified as
either the primary or secondary caregiver.
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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Procedures
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Data were collected by trained data collectors
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using parental self-report
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questionnaires from both primary and secondary parents from the same family. Although the
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LSAC is well-conducted national research project, the authors of the current study had no
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control over what research instruments were used. We were granted access to utilise data
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from the LSAC following our application to investigate the relationship between youth sport
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participation and parental health and wellbeing. As such, we chose to utilise Wave 7 due to
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the range of available variables regarding parental mental health. Additionally, Wave 7
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represented a period in which the study child was in adolescence (i.e., 12 14 years). We
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chose to sample parents of adolescents as this stage typically represents a period whereby
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sport participation begins to demand more effort and commitment from parents (Côté, 1999;
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Harwood & Knight, 2009). The research methodology and survey content of Growing Up in
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Australia is reviewed and approved by the Australian Institute of Family Studies Ethics
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Committee, which is a Human Research Ethics Committee registered with the National
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Health and Medical Research Council. Informed consent was obtained from all participants.
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Measures
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Sport Participation
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Sport participation was measured using self-reported items pertaining to a child’s
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regular participation in organised extracurricular team and individual sports. Parents were
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asked “In the last 12 months, has (your) child regularly participated in team sport (e.g.
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football, cricket or netball)?”, and subsequently, “In the last 12 months, has (your) child
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regularly participated in individual sport (e.g. tennis, karate or gymnastics)?” Parents could
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2
Trained data collectors refer to research personnel hired within the LSAC, and not the
authors of the current study. More information on the LSAC can be found at
https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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answer either “yes” or “no” for each item. Using these data, parents were categorised as
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belonging to one of four groups regarding their sport participation status. We categorised
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sport participation involvement as either: 1) parents with adolescents that are not involved in
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any extracurricular sport (‘no sport’); 2) parents with adolescents participating in individual
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sport only (‘individual-only’); 3) parents with adolescents participating in team sport only
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(‘team-only’); and, 4) parents with adolescents participating in both individual and team sport
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(‘both’).
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Furthermore, parents also self-reported how many days per week they were involved
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in team or individual sport, How many days is (the) study child involved in team sport in a
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typical week?” In addition, parents were asked how many hours they allocated to sport during
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a typical day “On this day/these days, about how many hours did study child spend going to
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team sport?” and could choose between 0.5 (up to one hour a day), 1.5 (more than one hour
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but less than 2 hours a day), or 2.5 (more than 2 hours a day). For those with adolescents
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involved in both team and individual sport, responses for hours involved in team and
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individual sport per day were summed to obtain a value for total number of hours per day
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(i.e., parents could score up to 5; for a similar approach, see Vella et al., 2017).
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Psychological Distress
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We measured primary and secondary parents’ psychological distress based on a mean
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of the six items. The Kessler-6 (K6; Kessler et al., 2005) is a six-item measure of
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psychological distress that contains items regarding anxiety and depressive symptomology.
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Participants were asked to rate how often they have felt, for example, “restless or fidgety” or
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that “everything felt like an effort” in the past 30 days from 1 (none of the time) to 5 (all of
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the time). The K6 has excellent internal consistency and test-retest reliability and is suitable
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for use with different demographic adult samples (Kessler et al., 2005; Hurley et al., 2018).
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Perceived Time Pressure
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Parents responded to a single item assessing their subjective feelings of being rushed
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or pressed for time, “How often do you feel rushed or pressed for time?” ranging from 1
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(never) to 5 (always). This single item has been previously used in adult-spousal populations
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(Craig & Brown, 2017).
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Perceived Life Stress
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Parents were asked to rate how stressful they perceived their life was at present. The
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single item read “How difficult do you feel your life is at present?” from 1 (no problems or
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stress) to 5 (very many problems and stresses). This item has been applied to previous parent
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investigations (e.g., Craike et al., 2010).
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Covariates
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The following covariates were included independently for primary and secondary
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parents: sex; indigenous status; neighbourhood socio-economic position (SEP); household-
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level SEP; and, language spoken at home. Indigenous status was categorised as “Aboriginal”,
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“Torres Strait Islander”, “Both”, or “None”. A measure of neighbourhood SEP (derived from
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postcode of residence) was determined according to the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas
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(SEIFA) Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage. Household-level SEP was
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measured using standardised household income. Household income was self-reported by the
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primary parent in dollars per week and was standardised to household size by dividing by the
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square root of the number of people residing in the household (Australian Bureau of
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Statistics, 2005).
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Statistical Analyses
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After confirming that assumptions of normality were met, univariate ANCOVA’s
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were used to examine the association between sports participation groups (i.e., no sport,
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individual only, team only, and both) and measures of parental mental health. In the event of
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a significant main effect, pairwise comparisons with a Bonferroni correction were performed
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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post-hoc using the estimated marginal means of mental health measures, adjusted for all
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covariates, to determine the source of potential differences. Data were analysed using SPSS
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statistical software (version 26, IBM, New York, United States).
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Additionally, linear regression models were used to explore whether 1) the number of
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days involved in sport per week, and 2) the number of hours involved in sport during a
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typical participation predicted outcomes of mental health. All regression models accounted
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for the aforementioned covariates.
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Finally, moderation models were conducted using PROCESS (Hayes, 2015) to
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examine whether (a) child sex; and (b) neighbourhood socioeconomic position moderated the
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relationship between sport participation categories and our dependent variables. The pick-a-
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point method (i.e., -1 or +1 SD) was used in the presence of a significant interaction effect (p
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< .05).
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Results
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Sport Participation
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Descriptive statistics across sport participation groups can be found in Table 1. Sport
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participation data were collected from the primary parent. Thirty-eight percent of parents in
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the current study did not have adolescents involved in organised youth sport (n = 1299). For
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sport parents, 34% had adolescents that were involved in team sport only (n = 1181), 13%
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were involved in individual sport only (n = 442), and an additional 13% had adolescents that
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were enrolled in both team and individual sport (n = 430). There were significant differences
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with regard to the number of days per week parents’ adolescents were involved in organised
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sport F(2, 2049) = 368.53, p < .001,
2p = 0.26. Parents with adolescents involved in both
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team and individual sport reported their adolescents spending more days per week involved
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in sport than parents of team sport athletes (p < .001), and parents of individual sport athletes
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(p < .001). Similar differences emerged for number of hours spent in a typical sport
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SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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participation day F(2, 2050) = 552.70, p < .001,
2p = 0.35. Parents with adolescents involved
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in both types of sport reported their children spending more hours per day involved in sport
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than parents of team only athletes (p < .001), and parents of individual sport athletes (p <
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.001).
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Psychological Distress
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After controlling for covariates and excluding incomplete cases, there were significant
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differences with primary parents’ psychological distress in relation to sport participation
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categories F(3, 2580) = 3.27, p = .020,
2p = 0.004. Sport participation was associated with
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lower psychological distress, whereby primary parents with adolescents involved in both
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types of sport reported lower level of psychological distress than non-sport primary parents (p
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= .042). With regard to secondary parents, there were no significant differences with respect
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to psychological distress F(3, 1249) = 0.20, p = .90,
2p = 0.001.
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We used linear regressions to explore whether the number of days per week and
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number of hours per day parents’ children allocated to youth sport predicted psychological
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distress (see Table 2 for all regression results across primary and secondary parents). The
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overall regression model was significant (p < .001). With regard to the primary parent, total
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days in sport significantly predicted psychological distress (p < .001), whereby more days
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involved in sport resulted in lower reports of psychological distress. In contrast, total hours of
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sport in a typical participation day did not significantly predict psychological distress (p =
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.057). Furthermore, number of days per week (p =.47) and number of hours per day (p =.15)
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did not predict secondary parents’ psychological distress.
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Perceived Time Pressure
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There were significant differences regarding primary parents’ perceptions of time
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pressure across sport participation categories (3, 2648) = 6.80, p < .001,
2p = 0.01.
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Specifically, non-sport primary parents perceived significantly less time pressure than
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individual sport only primary parents (p = .002), team sport only primary parents (p = .002),
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and primary parents with adolescents involved in both types of sport (p = .03). In contrast,
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sport participation categories did not have an effect on secondary parents’ perceived time
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pressure F(3, 1262) = 0.26, p = .86,
2p = 0.001.
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The overall regression model was significant (p < .001). The number of weekly days
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parents’ children spent in sport was a significant predictor of primary parents’ perceptions of
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being rushed (p = .042). Conversely, the number of daily hours primary parents’ children
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spent in youth sport did not significantly predict these perceptions (p =.10). Further, number
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of days per week (p = .74) and number of hours per day (p = .72) did not predict secondary
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parents’ perceptions of feeling rushed.
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Perceived Life Stress
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No significant differences emerged with respect to sport participation categories and
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primary parents’ life stress F(3, 2652) = 2.29, p = .08,
2p = 0.003. Similarly, secondary
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parents’ perceived life stress was not impacted by their sport participation category F(3,
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1265) = 0.39, p = .76,
2p = 0.001.
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In terms of sport participation predicting life stress, the overall regression model was
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significant (p < .001). Total days spent in sport per week did not significantly predict primary
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parents’ perceptions of life stress (p = .95). The number of hours parents’ children spent in
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sport per day did positively predict life stress in primary parents (p = .049). Conversely,
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number of days per week (p = .40) and number of hours per day (p = .28) did not predict
286
secondary parents’ life stress.
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Moderation of Child Sex
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The overall moderation model for child sex on primary parents’ psychological distress
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was significant F(3, 3359) = 4.12, p = .006. Conversely, the effect of child sex B = 0.002,
290
95% CI [-.91, .95] and the interaction B = -.006, 95% CI [-.04, .32] were not significant. With
291
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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regard to secondary parents’ psychological distress, the overall model for child sex (1, 1952)
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= 9.68, p = .002 and the effect of child sex B = .16, 95% CI [.06, .26] were significant.
293
Notably, the interaction effect for child sex was significant B = -.06, 95% CI [-.10, -.03],
294
whereby for secondary parents with female child-athletes, there was a significant negative
295
relationship between sport participation and psychological distress B = -.04, p = .006, 95% CI
296
[-.07, -.01].
297
With regard to primary parents’ perceived time pressure, the overall moderation
298
model for child sex was not significant F(3, 3342) = .71, p = .54. Similarly, the effect of child
299
sex B = -.07, 95% CI [-.39, .25] and the interaction B = .006, 95% CI [-.12, .13] were not
300
significant. Furthermore, the overall moderation model for child sex on secondary parents’
301
perceived time pressure F(3, 1973) = 1.25, p = .29, the effect of child sex B = -.02, 95% CI [-
302
.10, .06], and the interaction effect B = -.07, 95% CI [-.14, .01] were not significant.
303
With regard to primary parents’ perceived life stress, the overall moderation model
304
for child sex was not significant F(3, 3348) = .72, p = .54. Similarly, the effect of child sex B
305
= .16, 95% CI [-.16, .48] and the interaction B = -.07, 95% CI [-.20, .06] were not significant.
306
With regard to secondary parents’ perceived life stress, the overall model for child sex (1,
307
1976) = 1.90, p = .13, and the effect of child sex B = -.03, 95% CI [-.10, .05] were not
308
significant. However, the interaction effect for child sex was significant B = -.07, 95% CI
309
[.00, .13], whereby for secondary parents with female child-athletes, there was a significant
310
negative relationship between sport participation and perceived life stress B = -.05, p = .03,
311
95% CI [.01, .10].
312
Moderation of Neighbourhood Socioeconomic Position
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Moderation models revealed that for primary parents, the model for SEP F(3, 3258) =
314
13.08, p < .001, the effect of SEP B = .03, 95% CI [.01, .05] and the interaction B = -.05,
315
95% CI [-.06, - .02] were significant. In fact, the pick a point method revealed that SEP had a
316
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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significant negative moderation effect on psychological distress for primary parents at the
317
mean value B = -.03, p < .001, 95% CI [-.05, -.02] and above the mean B = -.08, p < .001,
318
95% CI [-.10, -.05]. With respect to secondary parents psychological distress, the overall
319
moderation model for SEP was not significant F(3, 1952) = 1.58, p = .19. Similarly, the
320
effect of SEP B = -.02, 95% CI [-.04, .00] and the interaction B = -.01, 95% CI [-.03, .01]
321
were not significant.
322
With regard to primary parents perceived time pressure, the overall moderation model
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for SEP F(3, 3341) = 1.08, p = .36, the effect of SEP B = -.02, 95% CI [-.09, .05], and the
324
interaction effect B = .04, 95% CI [-.03, .10] were not significant. Further, the overall model
325
for SEP on secondary parents’ perceived life stress was not significant F(3, 1973) = 1.73, p =
326
.16, however, the effect of SEP was significant B = .04, 95% CI [.00, .08]. Conversely, the
327
interaction effect was not significant B = .02, 95% CI [-.02, .06].
328
With regard to primary parents perceived life stress, the overall model for SEP F(3,
329
3347) = 5.70, p = .001 and the effect of SEP B = -.13, 95% CI [-.20, -.06] were significant.,
330
however, the interaction was not B = -.06, 95% CI [-.12, .01]. Finally, the overall model for
331
SEP on secondary parents’ perceived life stress F(3, 1976) = 1.76, p = .15, the effect of SEP
332
B = .02, 95% CI [-.02, .05] and the interaction B = -.31, 95% CI [-.06, .00] were not
333
significant.
334
Discussion
335
The purpose of this exploratory study was to explore the relations of having a child in
336
youth sport and primary and secondary parents’ mental health. We explored mental health
337
outcomes of both primary and secondary parents who were the parents of either non-sport
338
participants, team sport participants only, individual sport participants only, or participants of
339
both team and individual sport. We also explored whether contextual variables (i.e., number
340
of days per week and hours per day in sport) predicted parents’ mental health. Finally, we
341
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
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explored whether the study child’s sex and neighbourhood SEP moderated these effects. As a
342
result, primary parents of non-sport participants reported less time pressure than all three
343
other sport participation categories. In contrast, parents of adolescent sport participants
344
reported lower psychological distress then non-sport participants. Specifically, participants
345
that reported less distress were parents of adolescents involved in both team and individual
346
sport. Further, number of days per week and number of hours per day served as salient
347
predictors of primary parents’ perceptions of time pressure and life stress. Moreover, a robust
348
finding across all variables was that the effects discussed herein were more prominent in
349
primary parents, suggesting that some mental health outcomes may be dependent on the
350
nature of parents’ involvement. Lastly, child sex and neighbourhood SEP moderated some of
351
the aforementioned relationships for both primary and secondary parents.
352
Among the findings of the current study, the relations between sport participation
353
categories and parental mental health were noteworthy. In fact, primary parents (i.e., largely
354
mothers) with adolescents involved in both types of sport (i.e., team and individual) reported
355
less psychological distress than primary parents of non-sport participants. As such, the
356
current findings support previous work that highlights that the increased time and financial
357
pressure of having a child in youth sport are offset by some of the potential protective factors
358
(e.g., improved family and peer relationships) of participation (Dorsch et al., 2009; Clarke et
359
al., 2016; Tamminen et al., 2017; Wiersma & Fifer, 2008). Parents often report that despite
360
the financial and logistical challenges of having a child in sport, they experience meaningful
361
benefits based on their interactions with others and the satisfaction they experience from
362
observing their child compete (Johansen & Green, 2019; Knight & Holt, 2014; Wiersma &
363
Fifer, 2008). Notably, observing their child develop life skills through sport reinforced the
364
perceived value of sport participation, and therefore “made it all worth it” (Wiersma & Fifer,
365
2008). Overall, the results of this study may lend support to the notion that the benefits
366
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
16
outweigh the detriments associated with youth sport participation for parents who enact the
367
primary parent role.
368
One potential explanation for the benefit of sport participation on primary parents’
369
psychological distress is the opportunity to expand social networks (e.g., Legg et al., 2015). A
370
number of empirical studies report the positive relations between social support and mental
371
health (Kessler & McLeod, 1985; Wang et al., 2018). In the current study, primary parents
372
were predominantly the female caregiver, and therefore the expansion of social networks that
373
results from having a child in youth sport may be particularly salient for mothers. Previous
374
studies have established sport as a vehicle for parents to create a sport-related community of
375
individuals that they would otherwise never meet (Brown, 2014; Dorsch et al., 2009; Legg et
376
al., 2015; Warner et al., 2015). Parents establish baseline relationships with other parents
377
from their child’s sport team, which are often expressed through friendly greetings before and
378
after competition (Brown, 2014; Dorsch et al., 2019; Elliott & Drummond, 2013; Lally &
379
Kerr, 2008). In some cases, parents progress beyond friendly greetings and develop close
380
relationships (Brown, 2014; Neely et al., 2017). The formation of close relationships among
381
mothers in sport is important because of the time constraints sport inev5itably places on their
382
social lives outside of sport (Bean et al., 2019; Hayward et al., 2017).
383
The improved familial relationships as a result their child’s sport participation may
384
also have had a role in the lower reports of psychological distress among primary parents. For
385
example, the improvements parents perceive with regard to their relationship and
386
communication with their child may have a moderating effect between sport participation and
387
parental mental health (Clarke et al., 2016; Tamminen et al., 2017; Wiersma & Fifer, 2008).
388
Parents in the study by Brown (2014) considered sport participation as beneficial for parent-
389
child relationships, with both child-athletes and siblings. The time spent observing training
390
sessions allowed parents to interact with the child-athlete’s siblings while also providing
391
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
17
direct support to the athlete. Further, parents have reported excitement from Sunday morning
392
training routines, pride from the opportunity to provide feedback, and an overall feeling of
393
satisfaction as a parent (Clarke et al., 2016; Dorsch et al., 2019; Trussell & Shaw, 2012). As
394
such, considering the positive associations between a strong parent-child relationship and
395
parents’ psychological distress (e.g., Yuan, 2016), involvement in organised youth sport may
396
amplify these effects.
397
Time constraints are among the most highly discussed outcomes of being a parent in
398
youth sport (e.g., Bean et al., 2019; Holt et al., 2008; Knight et al., 2016; Thrower et al.,
399
2016). Parents have identified a lack of time as the primary constraint for their mental and
400
relationship health (Bean et al., 2019; Thrower et al., 2016). Parents’ ongoing scheduling
401
demands often result in the inability to make time for peers outside of the sport environment,
402
neglecting their own physical activity needs, and decrease time spent with family (Bean et al.,
403
2019). However, the findings of the current study revealed number of days involved in sport
404
per week was a more salient predictor than the number of hours spent in sport during a
405
participation day. Specifically, when weekly sport activities were spread out across more
406
days, primary parents (i.e., mostly mothers) experienced less psychological distress and
407
increased perceptions of feeling rushed. Although a somewhat surprising finding, we
408
acknowledge that the current study could not account for all potential factors that may relate
409
to parents’ psychological distress. Nonetheless, future researchers in the field may consider
410
paying close attention to how the structure of youth sport activities (i.e., weekly days and
411
hours) impact parents’ mental health.
412
Another finding that warrants discussion are the contrasting effects with regard to
413
primary and secondary parents’ mental health. Primary parents were operationalized as the
414
parent that knows the child the best, and were predominately mothers (i.e., 94%). In the
415
current study, sport participation categories or time spent in sport had little to no effect on
416
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
18
secondary parents’ mental health outcomes. Speculatively, primary parents may assume more
417
organisational responsibilities (e.g., transportation, meal preparation) than secondary parents,
418
which may in part explain the stronger effects seen in primary parents with regard to life
419
stress and time pressure. Keeping this in mind, however, sport participation favoured primary
420
parents’ psychological distress more so than secondary parents, and therefore a primary
421
parental role also comes with its benefits. These differences may in part be explained by the
422
varying roles (e.g., supporter, administrator, coach, Knight et al., 2016) and involvement
423
(e.g., parenting styles, parenting practices, interactions with others; Harwood et al., 2019)
424
parents undertake in youth sport, however, more research is warranted.
425
As a final point of discussion, child sex and neighbourhood socioeconomic position
426
appeared to be salient moderating variables with respect to parental mental health.
427
Interestingly, secondary parents (i.e., largely fathers) with female child-athletes reported
428
lower psychological distress and perceived life stress in relation to their child’s participation
429
in sport. This aligns with previous research that suggests differences with regard to parent-
430
specific outcomes based on their child’s gender (Dorsch et al., 2009). Furthermore, the
431
positive associations between primary parentspsychological distress and youth sport
432
participation favoured parents that fell around or above the neighbourhood socioeconomic
433
position mean. Speculatively, parents who fell below the mean with regard to socioeconomic
434
position may experience more daily stressors related to sport compared to financially secure
435
parents.
436
Limitations and Future Directions
437
As with any study, there are important limitations to address and future directions to
438
discuss. First, the current study analysed data from the LSAC. Although the LSAC is an
439
impressive research endeavour that has collected data with thousands of participants over two
440
decades, researchers using the existing data have no control over what research instruments
441
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
19
were used. For example, we analysed parents’ psychological distress – a measure of
442
depression and anxiety symptomology that falls within a broad conceptualization of mental
443
health (Kessler et al., 2005). Future scholars may consider utilising more specific mental
444
health instruments with youth sport parents to drill down into more specific relations with
445
mental health constructs, such as the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS; Lovibond
446
& Lovibond, 1996). Furthermore, we explored differences in primary and secondary parents’,
447
although this distinction was solely based on definitions provided by the LSAC (i.e., primary
448
parents were those who knew the child the best). Considering the different roles that mothers
449
and fathers assume in youth sport, being the primary parent may not align with being the
450
primary facilitator of youth sport. We encourage scholars to consider more appropriate
451
definitions to better compare parent dyads’ level of youth sport engagement (i.e., who takes
452
the lead in youth sport activities) as an antecedent to their respective wellbeing. For example,
453
a highly engaged parent may spend more time in transportation to and from sport, interacting
454
with other parents and coaches, and spectating competition. In a similar vein, the inability to
455
analyse LSAC data from a within-family approach represents another limitation of the current
456
study. We therefore encourage researchers to consider a within-family approach when
457
comparing two youth sport parents from the same household.
458
Furthermore, it is important to address the potential variability with regard to
459
interpreting the current findings. Specifically, we were solely interested in exploring the
460
relations between having a child involved in sport and reports of parental mental health.
461
Alternatively, it is possible that parents with better mental health are more likely to enrol their
462
children in sports, be more available and supportive with their participation, and thereby
463
facilitate better outcomes for the child. Subsequently, parents of children who participate in
464
sport may be more likely to further strengthen their mental health (i.e., due to increased
465
family and social connections; Wang et al., 2018). As such, the relationship between parental
466
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
20
mental health and child sport participation may be complex, and bidirectional in nature. To
467
add further complexity, similar to athletes, additional variables (e.g., socioeconomic status,
468
access to facilities) may moderate the relationship between parental mental health and child
469
sport participation (Vella et al., 2014). In addition, there is a need to explore potential
470
moderators of the relationship between sport participation and parents’ mental health.
471
Specifically, understanding how sport facilitates new outlets of support for parents, or rather
472
how it may enhance the parent-child relationship would be a fruitful avenue of research to
473
pursue. Relevant theories of human development that has been previously applied to youth
474
sport parenting research (e.g., PPCT framework; Bronfenbrenner, 2005; Holt et al., 2008;
475
Dorsch et al., 2016) may benefit this endeavour. Further, this study only focused on the sport
476
participation of one child, and therefore parents may have had other children engaged in
477
extracurricular activities that could have impacted their perceptions of mental health
478
(Harwood & Knight, 2009b). Future work may consider a whole-family approach and collect
479
cases of athletes, siblings, and parents. Finally, this study is limited by the cross-sectional
480
design. As such, causal relations cannot be inferred and therefore controlled studies
481
examining parents’ mental health in youth sport would benefit the field.
482
Practical Implications
483
The current study raises practical implications for youth sport stakeholders to
484
consider. First, although there are many factors that may influence psychological distress, the
485
current findings highlight the benefit of having a child in youth sport for parents. Although it
486
is well documented that sport provides both positive and negative experiences for parents
487
(Wiersma & Fifer, 2008), the current findings revealed that primary parents’ psychological
488
distress decreases in association with the number of weekly days spent in sport. It should be
489
noted, however, that parents with less psychological distress may also be more willing to
490
facilitate youth sport. Nonetheless, there appears to be meaningful benefits in parents’ daily
491
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
21
sport engagements. Whether these benefits are explained by the interactions with their
492
children or other parents, physically observing their child compete, or the greater sense of
493
responsibility and fulfilment as a parent (Clarke & Harwood, 2014; Coakley, 2006), this
494
information is important to consider for interventions and educational workshops with
495
parents. Once a sound understanding is reached with respect to parental involvement and
496
sustained wellbeing, interventions may apply family approaches to address athlete and
497
parental mental health. Current mental health interventions in sport (e.g., Vella et al., 2018)
498
may help guide this pursuit.
499
In conclusion, the current study provides a novel perspective with regard to parents’
500
mental health in youth sport. Indeed, the evidence herein suggests benefits of sport
501
participation on primary parents’ mental health. Keeping in mind, however, that sport
502
participation variables predicted increased time pressure and life stress, and were particularly
503
salient for primary parents (i.e., largely mothers). As such, there remains much to learn with
504
respect to the antecedents of sport parents’ mental health. The goal of such research will
505
provide the necessary evidence for future interventions with youth sport parents to maximise
506
the benefits of having a child in youth sport on mental health. Taken together, the current
507
study provides novel understanding with respect to the relations of having a child involved in
508
youth sport and parental mental health.
509
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
22
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Wiersma, L. D., & Fifer, A. M. (2008). “The schedule has been tough but we think it's worth
667
it”: The joys, challenges, and recommendations of youth sport parents. Journal of
668
Leisure Research, 40(4), 505-530. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2008.11950150
669
Wolfenden, L. E., & Holt, N. L. (2005). Talent development in elite junior tennis:
670
Perceptions of players, parents, and coaches. Journal of Applied Sport
671
Psychology, 17(2), 108-126. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200590932416
672
Yuan, A. S. V. (2016). Father–child relationships and non resident fathers’ psychological
673
distress: What helps and what hurts?. Journal of Family Issues, 37(5), 603-621.
674
https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X14526394
675
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
29
Note. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. Sport participation variables were only reported by primary parents.
Mental Health
Primary Parents
Secondary Parents
No Sport
Individual Sport
Team Sport
Both
No Sport
Individual sport
Team sport
Both
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
Psychological Distress
1.54 (0.61)*
1.55 (0.65)
1.40 (0.56)
1.43 (0.55)*
1.43 (0.50)
1.46 (0.53)
1.41 (0.49)
1.40 (0.51)
Time Pressure
3.20 (2.12)*
3.47 (1.71)*
3.30 (2.26)*
3.42 (1.96)*
3.27 (0.90)
3.29 (0.92)
3.31 (0.91)
3.25 (0.95)
Life Stress
2.40 (1.07)
2.31 (1.55)
2.41 (1.24)
2.53 (0.74)
3.45 (0.82)
3.47 (0.84)
3.51 (0.77)
3.51 (0.80)
Days/Week in Sport
-
2.12 (1.40)
2.54 (1.26)
4.52 (1.89)
Hours/Day in Sport
-
1.46 (0.74)
1.53 (0.63)
2.90 (1.09)
SPORT PARTICIPATION AND PARENTAL MENTAL HEALTH
30
Table 2.
Linear Regression Models of Sport Participation Predicting Mental Health Outcomes
Primary Parents
Secondary Parents
Psychological Distress
Time
Pressure
Life stress
Psychological Distress
Time Pressure
Life stress
b (SE)
b (SE)
b (SE)
b (SE)
b (SE)
b (SE)
Days/Week in Sport
-0.04 (0.01)***
0.04 (0.02)*
-0.001 (0.02)
-0.01 (0.01)
0.01 (0.02)
0.01 (0.02)
Hours/Day in Sport
0.03 (0.01)
0.06 (0.04)
0.07 (0.03)*
0.02 (0.02)
0.01 (0.02)
-0.03 (0.03)
R2
0.01
0.55
0.53
0.01
0.01
0.01
Note. b = unstandardized regression coefficient. SE = standard error. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.
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