Monday, April 14, 2014

Research spurs discussion on sport, pressure and parents

By JoLynne Lyon

If money can’t buy a young athlete’s love, what can it buy?

Sports equipment, maybe. A tournament entry fee. A personal trainer. But it all may come with a hidden cost: The child’s perception of parental pressure.

Over the last year, Family, Consumer, and Human Development Assistant Professor Travis Dorsch led a research team to study the relationship between sport spending and a child athlete’s enjoyment. They discovered good things — parental support was a significant, positive factor in a child’s enjoyment and motivation to continue.

But they also found an indirect correlation between high sport spending on the family’s part and lower enjoyment for the child athlete.

The study is still being submitted for publication, but it’s generating some buzz in the media world (and over dinner tables). While the study is about family spending, it is also about pressure, which child athletes seem to feel at younger and younger ages.

“I don’t think a parent would put in the money and pressure their kid to do something they didn’t want to do,” said Kevin Rothlisberger, one of the undergraduate researchers who worked on the study. “All the parents reported that they didn’t feel like they were pressuring their child.”

But sometimes the children perceived it differently. “What the child may call pressure, the parent may call support,” said Dorsch.

Those parents may hope that the money spent on sports now may result in a payoff later: a scholarship or a professional career. “But for every child who gets a scholarship or plays professionally there are probably a thousand families that don’t get anything.”

You can read more about the study in Forbes, Yahoo!, KSL, the University Herald and Utah State Today. Update: Add the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune to the list.

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