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How to be a good sporting parent - BBC ideas

How to be a good sporting parent

As a parent, you want your child to do well. But how do you strike the right balance between encouraging and supporting your child, and pushing them hard?

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This is one of many short videos made by The Open university and BBC Ideas. From resilience, to prisons, to sport psychology and climate change... dive into our full playlist over on the BBC Ideas site.

Mother and daughter do yoga

Top 5 Tips for Sport Parents

Childhood experiences of sport are of key interest to both of us, as part of our roles as researchers as well as being parents ourselves.

Therefore, we have put together, based upon research evidence over several decades, five top tips that you can implement as parents to encourage and support your child’s athletic development.

1. Provide a range of opportunities for your child

Children bouldering

Parents should encourage their children to sample a range of fun and enjoyable sport activities throughout their childhood. As a parent, you are likely to be instrumental in providing such opportunities for your child. However, your decision of whether to provide or limit opportunities may be influenced by what you feel is important for your child and also what you feel your child will be successful in (Dixon et al., 2008).  In addition, these value and beliefs about your child’s sporting experiences may be shaped by your own experiences of sport, by gender related issues, and by other social variables. Our top tip here is to provide as many opportunities for your child to engage with a variety of sports and to provide these opportunities based upon your child’s interests and enjoyment, avoiding any preconception about their ability.

2. Take an interest without obsession

Father and son rest after playing football

Some parents are labelled as under involved and fail to provide the emotional, financial and functional support needed by their child. Such parents rarely attend events, hold little interest in their child’s achievements and often don’t value sport as important. In contrast, other parents can be overinvolved and are often ‘excessive’, unable to separate their own needs from those of their child. Our top tip is to try and avoid these two extremes by taking enough interest to be able to provide direction and help set realistic goals for your child without overpowering them, offering them appropriate support, and listening to the coach.

3. Create a positive motivational climate

Father talking to son before an ice hockey match
A child’s experience of sport will also be shaped by the way in which their competence levels are measured.

It is important that children participate in sport for reasons such as enjoyment, interest and satisfaction as this type of self-determined behaviour is linked to greater persistence in sport (Quested & Duda, 2011). Many parents use extrinsic motivators to incentivise performance such as offering sweets or money for winning and this has been linked to increasing pressure and anxiety (Keegan et al., 2009) and can lead to dropout from sport (Fraser-Thomas et al., 2008).

For example, some parents value and praise winning and outperforming others (known as ego-involving or performance climate) whereas others value and praise their child’s effort and improvements (known as a task-involving, or mastery, climate). In youth sport research unambiguously expresses the benefits of a mastery climate (O’Rourke et al., 2014). Therefore, our top tip is to provide supportive feedback placing emphasis on your child’s personal progress rather than measuring them against the performance of others and to avoid the use of extrinsic motivators to encourage participation.

4. Be a role model

Father sparring with son in boxing ring

How you as a parent behave at sports events and how you interact with others such as coaches, fellow parents, and other young athletes all impact a child’s sport experience (Harwood et al., 2019). The main point here is to maintain control of your own emotions when watching your child play. Refrain from behaviours that attract attention such as arguing with coaches or officials or shouting at other players. We all want to show support for our children when they play but this will be different for each child, so our top tip here would be to talk to your child about how they want you to support them during competition.

5. Provide emotional support

Dejected girl rests against sports net

The extent to which parents are able to understand both their own and their child’s emotions will influence the helpfulness of the interpretation of their child’s sporting experience (Harwood & Knight, 2015). For example, how a parent reacts or behaves in response to their child’s experiences, may influence the child’s interpretation of the experience as positive or negative. Therefore, talk to your child, listen to what they need and offer them the appropriate emotional support.


The research into parental influences suggests that although general recommendations can be made in terms of how to create the most positive environment for your child, each child is unique and brings their own personality to the situation. Therefore, parents should adopt an emotionally supportive approach to meet the individual needs of their child. 

Meet the OU experts

Jessica Pinchbeck, Senior Lecturer Sport and Fitness, the OU
Jessica PinchbeckSenior Lecturer Sport and FitnessVIEW FULL PROFILE
Jessica Pinchbeck, Senior Lecturer Sport and Fitness, the OU
Jessica PinchbeckSenior Lecturer Sport and Fitness

Jessica is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Fitness at the Open University. She has worked as an academic at the university since October 2011. Prior to that she worked as an associate lecturer at the Open University and as a lecturer in sport and exercise science within the FE sector.

Jessica's specialist area includes the topics of youth sport participation and the influence of the family in sport. Jessica is currently undertaking her PhD investigating the role of the family in women's participation in club sport.

Candice Lingam-WillgossProgramme Leader, Sport and Fitness - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & SportVIEW FULL PROFILE
Candice Lingam-WillgossProgramme Leader, Sport and Fitness - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport

I'm the Programme Leader for Sport and Fitness and the Deputy Associate Head of School (ECYS)(Curriculum and Quality) at The Open University.   

I joined the Sport and Fitness team in 2013 having worked as an Associate Lecturer for the Open University since 2010. Prior to working for the Open University I was based at Southampton University where she was the Assistant Programme Director for Sport. 

My main areas of interest are within sport and exercise psychology and sociology of sport - and more recently career trajectories in various sports.  I'm currently studying for my PhD which is a qualitative study looking at the transitional experiences of elite sportswomen from high risk sports. 


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