Play Ball! Why Parental Involvement is Important for Young Athletes (by Andrew Hanna)

Andrew1As a kid, my favorite part of organized sports was when my parents showed up. Due to my parents’ hectic schedules, it was a rare event, which made it even more exciting.

As a little league coach, I could see that same dynamic play out with the kids on my team – they loved looking up from the field and seeing their mom or dad, sitting in the bleachers, watching them. I noticed that the games their parents show up to are usually the games where the players perform the best.

During my volunteer work coaching in Little League baseball, I realized the importance of parental engagement. It was not only tremendously vital for the league to operate with parental volunteers but it was equally important for the parents to be engaging with their children. I saw vast improvements with the players whose parents were actively involved as opposed to the players whose parents were not available to participate with the team. This brought me to the question of how important is it for parents to be actively engaged with their children’s sport teams? And why?

 

Just in case you don’t think this is that relevant, let me assure you it is! According to the Boston Globe, “three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport — a total of about 45 million kids.” Chances are if you have children, you will run up against this issue.

Why do parents have such an influence on their kids’ sporting activities?

The reason that parents have such an impact on their kids’ sporting activities is because before a child is influenced by their peers, their coach, or their favorite sports players, they are influenced by their parents. A BBC Sports article says, “research recognizes the importance of early experiences since mainly parents introduce children to a sport or club, buy equipment and accompany them to competitions. Evidence suggests that those who have ‘sporty’ parents are more likely to take part in sport and those with parents who have achieved sporting success are more likely to excel.” It makes sense that our earliest role models (our parents) would be our most impactful.

But what about the kid whose parents never show up?

 

Sadly, they probably won’t do as well. The issue isn’t whether or not the parents show up to every game, or even most games. Parental involvement comes down to the amount of attention the kid’s improvements / success is getting, and the amount of time the parent is spending helping the kid hone their skills. As a coach, it was very obvious to me which kids were practicing with their parents outside of scheduled practices, and which kids weren’t. According to the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, “Family involvement is one of the most important contributors to school completion and success. The most accurate predictor of a student’s school achievement is the extent to which his/her family encourages learning.” Even though this finding specifically points towards school achievement, the same logic applies to sports or any other extracurricular activity.

So how can a parent make sure they’re supporting their kids?

 

  1. Talk to your child

Every player is different and can benefit from different types of support. Ask your child if they would like you to help them practice, or if they would prefer that you come to their games. Listen to them talk about their teammates – do they mention other parents being involved? They may not be looking for your actual involvement as much as they’re looking for your interest in what they’re doing.

  1. Host an informal “Practice with your Parents” party

It’s not just your kid that needs parental involvement – it’s every kid. Think about hosting a team-wide practice party, where kids can practice with their parents. Parents often think that if they’re not good at the sport, they shouldn’t be practicing with their kids. If that’s your situation, try a unique approach: ask your kid to coach you. Ask them the best way to pitch, or how to position your feet when swinging a bat. This type of reverse learning is very effective, and builds confidence.

  1. Volunteer for little league

Little league is run almost entirely by volunteers, and it’s a great way to impact not only your kid’s life, but also the lives of many children. The little league website says, “All parents of children involved in Little League Baseball and Softball are strongly encouraged to volunteer. As a parent, volunteer, you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your child in a safe, fun-filled environment. Oftentimes, parent and child social lives parallel each other. Volunteering allows your life and your child’s life to intersect on common ground, with shared interests and goals.” You can find more information about being a volunteer, and apply, at this link: http://www.littleleague.org/learn/forms.htm.

When I was in little league, I remember thinking that when I was a parent, I would go to every game and always make time to practice with my kids. Even as a kid, I understood how important that was, but I didn’t understand why. Now, seeing how much my involvement will affect my child’s experience, I am even motivated to be an active participant in their extracurricular activities. And you should be too.

Interested in learning more? The following sources provide helpful information:

Anderson, Jennifer, Jeanne Funk, Robert Elliott, and Peg Hull Smith. “Parental support and pressure and children’s extracurricular activities: relationships with amount of involvement and affective experience of participation.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 24.2 (2003): 241-257. Online.

This study examines the perceptions that children have when their parents are involved in their extracurricular activities. The research focuses on the Parental Involvement in Activities Scale (PIAS), which measures a child’s perception of their parents’ engagement in their activities. The study results show that parents can use specific tactics to ensure their children get a positive experience in their extracurricular activities.

Dreisbach, Shaun. “THE SECRET TO LOVING Sports.” EBSCOHost.com Scholastic Parent & Child, May-June 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.

An article that looks at the importance of sports in the development of young children. Overview of extracurricular sports in the United States, and how organized sports have significant health benefits. This article also focuses on what parents can do to ensure their children enjoy playing sports.

Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Retrieved 6/1/2015, from http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf

Report on the evidence which examines the impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. The study is in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Educational Research, and offers recommendations for improvements in personal and academic settings.

Thanks to Daren for the photo.

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3 comments

  1. Ryan Clark

    Hey Andrew! I think this is a great blog post! I was definitely a busy sports kid and it was always so important to have my parents involved, whether they were volunteering or just cheering from the sidelines! I think you have some great sources here and you tie them into your post really well by also keeping it very personable.

    The only thing I would suggest isn’t too big of a deal but it would have been maybe saying a little bit more about how it’s hard for parents to volunteer or get there sometimes because they are working multiple jobs, they are single parents, or just have lots of kids. You did kind of bring it up in the beginning though with your intro about how excited you were to see your parents when they were able to show up and thats great! Seriously there isn’t too much to say for constructive criticism because you did a great job! I think its super important for parents to be involved and I’m glad you wrote about it!

    Ryan

  2. Desiree M

    Andrew-

    I love your ability to smoothly transition from the data your research came up with to how you have noticed support for this evidence in your day to day coaching life. It brought real world meaning to your data, and good source of authority. What I liked most about your blog was your easy steps to getting more involved with your kids through play, role reversal, talking and volunteering. All great pointers and presented in an easy and manageable way.

    One thing I would have liked to see covered more, would be how your parents having too busy of a schedule to consistently come to your games when you were younger affected your progression or abilities as a sports player. Do you feel they showed up enough to your games? I wish you would have pulled your intro back in and wrapped the post up with that. Really good work though.

    Desiree M

  3. Andrew,
    Great blog post. I really like the subject that you chose to expand on. It seems to be one that is mostly overlooked. You did a really good job at laying this post out. I was impressed with the bullet points you created to make the blog easier to digest. I liked the second bullet specifically because the tip to let the child coach you is very creative. Also, looking back at when I was in sports I think it would be really beneficial.
    In terms of improvement, I think you did such a great job that it’s hard to come up with something. Maybe just talking about your experience while growing up and maybe how it shaped you into who you are now.

    Looking back to when I participated in sports I can also see the difference between kids that had parents there and kids who didn’t. For instance I had a friend that was the daughter of the coach. She was a tremendous player. Probably one of the best on the team. My parents rarely showed, so I well… wasn’t all that great of a player, and didn’t take it very seriously.

    I think being a coach to little children would be so much fun. Sadly I’m not super educated in the rules of most sports so I’m not sure of how great of a coach I could be to them.

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