Advancing a grounded theory of parental support in competitive girls’ golf

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Abstract

Parental support in youth sport has been associated with positive athlete outcomes, such as sport enjoyment and continued participation. Although research has demonstrated the significant and influential role parents fulfil in the youth sport context, there remains a dearth of theoretical frameworks detailing parental support in youth sport and an absence of empirical research examining parental support across athlete development stages and sports. The present study sought to examine athletes’ perceptions of parental support, with a view to advancing a grounded theory of parental support in youth golf. Fourteen online synchronous focus groups were conducted with an international sample (Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland) of 61 girls, in the specialising (n = 27) and investment stages (n = 34) of athlete development. Data were analysed in three phases: open-coding, axial coding, and theoretical integration. The substantive grounded theory is constructed on the core category of ‘Individual Parental Support Preferences’. This core category is underpinned by four sub-categories of parental support which were evident across development stages: instrumental, informational, emotional, and autonomy support, and is influenced by a host of athlete (e.g., athletes’ performance), parent (e.g., parents’ knowledge), and contextual characteristics (e.g., location). Unconditional parental support is an important aspect of emotional support, however the concept of adopting a person-first approach to sport parenting is novel. These results provide a rich and novel insight of parental support in girls’ golf, advancing a grounded theoretical understanding of parental support mechanisms in a youth sport context.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102400
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Volume66
Early online date3 Feb 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 May 2023

Bibliographical note

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It should be noted that grounded theories of parental involvement in youth sport exist. For example, Holt et al. (2008) developed a grounded theory of parental involvement in competitive youth sport, which made distinctions between supportive and controlling parental comments. However, Holt et al.’s (2008) theory is based explicitly on parents verbal reactions. With this in mind, research has previously demonstrated that parents provide both verbal and non-verbal support to youth athletes. For example, Gould et al. (2006) revealed that the provision of financial and logistical support is a critical component of parental support. However, the grounded theory developed by Holt et al. (2008) does not account for such non-verbal support. Similarly, Knight and Holt (2014) advanced a grounded theory of optimal parental involvement in junior tennis. The theory posits that positive parental involvement is achieved when parents seek to understand their children's sporting experiences. Furthermore, the theory proposes that parents should (1) strive to generate and communicate shared goals, (2) develop an understanding emotional climate, and (3) engage in positive parenting practices at competitions. Although such grounded theories have significantly advanced the knowledge of parenting in youth sport, they focus on the broader concept of parental involvement. That is, they do not detail dimensions of parental support in youth sport, nor do such theories consider factors which may influence how parental support is perceived. As such, there is scope for the development of a theoretical framework providing a rich and integrated understanding of constructs of sport-specific parental support. Furthermore, researchers have called for the development of theoretically grounded measures of parental support in youth sport (Knight, 2019). The advancement of a theoretical framework of parental support will prove advantageous in the development of theoretically informed psychometric instruments of social support, pertinent to parents in youth sport.Following data collection and analysis, a substantive grounded theory of parental support in girls’ golf was developed (see Figure 1). The substantive grounded theory is constructed on the core category of: ‘Individual Parental Support Preferences’. This core category is underpinned by four sub-categories of parental support which were evident across both development stages: instrumental, informational, emotional, and autonomy support, and is influenced by a host of athlete, parent, and contextual characteristics. Furthermore, the theory demonstrates regular bi-directional communication between parents and youth athletes is essential for open communication of individual preferences for support. Data was gathered from participants recruited from seven countries (Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, and Scotland), however, it should be noted that there were no observable cultural differences within the data.The present study adds to existent literature by advancing a substantive grounded theory of parental support in youth sport. Results revealed that athletes possessed individual preferences for parental support across four key categories of instrumental, informational, emotional, and autonomy support, which were influenced by a multitude of athlete, parent, and contextual characteristics. These findings are consistent with previous qualitative research exploring parental support within the context of youth sport. For example, research conducted by Wiersma and Fifer (2008) examined sport parents’ perceptions of parental involvement, which demonstrated that parents provided transportation and scheduling support. Similarly, Wolfenden and Holt (2005) indicated that within the context of youth sport parents provide emotional, tangible (i.e., financial support; transportation), and informational support. Moreover, research has recently begun to delineate factors which influence athletes’ perceptions of parental involvement. For example, Knight et al. (2016) demonstrated that youth athletes’ perceptions of parental involvement vary across contexts (i.e., at home, training, and competitions). That is, athletes appreciated parents supporting their holistic development at home, providing constructive feedback at practice, and providing practical support across all contexts. Similarly, Knight et al. (2011) examined athletes’ perceptions of parental support before, during, and after competitions. Results indicated that athletes’ perceptions of support differed across phases of competition. Furthermore, findings demonstrated that athletes’ perceptions of their parents knowledge and experience of sport influenced their perception of instructional support. That is, athletes did not appreciate their parents providing technical or tactical information, unless parents possessed the necessary tennis experience and knowledge to do so. Such findings indicate that contextual and temporal factors, in addition to parent characteristics (i.e., knowledge) influence athletes’ perceptions of support. These findings are consistent with results from the present study, however, the aforementioned research examined aspects of parental support in silo. The current investigation extends on the previous knowledge in the domain of parental support, by adopting a grounded theory methodology allowing for the development of a conceptual framework of parental support in youth sport, advancing theoretical understandings. That is, the grounded theory methodology and associated process of theoretical integration within the present study allowed for the conceptualisation of constructs of parental support in youth sport and critically, details links and relationships between categories of parental support (i.e., autonomy, emotional, informational, and instrumental support), athletes’ individual perceptions of support, and influential factors such as, athlete (e.g., development stage), parent (e.g., knowledge), and contextual characteristics (e.g., competition format), further enhancing the understanding of the complexity of providing parental support in the youth sport environment. Furthermore, the advanced conceptual framework illustrates the facilitating role of open bi-directional communication in the provision of parental support. Rather than investigating these aspects in isolation, the advancement of the grounded theory brings together important aspects of parental support by a process of theoretical integration, providing a rich and integrated understanding of parental support, factors influencing parental support, and open bi-directional communication. Furthermore, although existing social support literature has detailed the support provided by the social support network in youth sport (e.g., Rees & Hardy, 2000), the presented grounded theory provides detailed insights into support mechanisms pertinent to parents specifically.Results revealed adopting a person-first approach, whereby the child is treated as a person/child first, athlete second, and supported and loved unconditionally is important. Previous research has indicated that unconditional support is an important aspect of emotional support (Gould et al., 2006), however the concept of adopting a person-first approach to sport parenting is novel. Within youth sport, a minority of parents continue to exhibit unsupportive or pressurizing behaviours, often resulting in increased athlete anxiety and amotivation (Gould et al., 2006; O'Rourke et al., 2011; Sanchez-Miguel et al., 2013). Research revealed motives behind such behaviours include the lure of professional sport and return on time and financial investments (Bean et al., 2016). However, the promotion of a person-first approach to parenting by practitioners, NGB's, and sport organizations, whereby the person is placed at the centre of the support provision, may help reduce the prevalence of such behaviours and motives. Furthermore, fostering a person-first approach to supporting child-athletes, aligns with acknowledging individual differences and providing tailored support which meets the individual needs of each child.Although this grounded theory advances the understanding of parental support in youth sport, it is not without its own limitations. Firstly, this substantive grounded theory represents youth athletes’ perceptions of parental support in golf. Although these perceptions provide the reader with a rich understanding of athletes’ views of parenting practices within the youth golf environment, these findings may be specific to the youth golf context, and therefore future research is warranted to examine the transfer of findings to diverse youth sport settings. Furthermore, the current research failed to explore parents’ perceptions of support. Previous research has demonstrated that athletes and parents may possess incongruent views of parental support in youth sport (Kanters et al., 2008). Future research may seek to explore parents’ perceptions of parental support, which presents an opportunity to further advance the grounded theory of parental support presented within this study. Further, the current study failed to examine sampling stage youth athletes preferences for parental support. Although the present research sought to examine parental support within competitive youth sport, given the facilitating role parents play during the sampling phase of development (Côté, 1999), future research should examine parental support among this demographic. Lastly, data were not collected on family forms (composition). Investigating parent-child relationships among diverse family forms presents a novel avenue for future research (Harwood & Knight, 2016).

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Keywords

  • Parents
  • Athletes
  • Golf
  • Youth sport
  • Support
  • Grounded theory

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