All about tsn (the social networking): Parents' perspectives on youth sport in an era of specialized sport opportunities

  • Christopher Shields School of Kinesiology, Acadia University
  • Pitter Robert School of Kinesiology, Acadia University
  • Dithurbide Lori School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University

Abstract

Parents play a primary role in shaping children's early sport experiences through their emotional investment, modelling, and the value they place on competition. Increasingly youth participate in a decreasing number of sports reflecting a trend toward early specialization - a pursuit often reinforced by sport organizations, private sport-businesses, and perhaps most importantly, by parents. The purpose of this study was to unpack the perceptions of adults who have children in early specialized sport programs (ESSP) to better understand where they see these programs fitting within the optimal youth sport experience. Ten participants drawn from three ESSP including parents of children currently involved in ESSP (n=6), and parents who are also current coaches in ESSP (n=4) completed open-ended interview questions exploring the perceived benefits and challenges associated with ESSP within the overall youth sport experience. The majority of participants (8/10) reported that their child engaged in their sport all year. Thematic content analysis revealed parents viewed expanding the child's social network (70% of respondents) and technical skill development (60%) as the key benefits of ESSP. Making friends was also identified as the primary personal benefit to having their children involved in ESSP (50%). The primary drawbacks to ESSP were expense (60%) and time away from other activities (50%). Only 4/10 participants had considered removing their children from ESSP with avoiding burnout as the primary motivation for considering doing so. Despite the small sample, these findings suggest that the development of social networking is seen by parents as an overarching benefit of their children's participation in ESSP.