Whose game are we playing? a study of the effects of adult involvement on children participating in organised team sports

Walters, Simon Richard
Schluter, Philip
Thomson, Rex
Payne, Deborah
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

There are clearly identified social, physical, and mental health benefits of physical activity in primary aged children. With an unequivocal link between sport and physical activity, it would appear to be fundamentally important that children are encouraged to participate in sporting activities. Parents and coaches have been acknowledged as key influences in their children’s uptake, enjoyment, and ongoing participation in sport. However, concerns have been commonly expressed in the media, both in New Zealand and internationally, about inappropriate sideline behaviour displayed by adults at children’s sporting events. In spite of this, few studies have examined the nature and effect of parental or coaching behaviour at children’s sporting events. In addition, although young children’s views are increasingly becoming seen to be important, relevant and valuable, there is no evidence in the peer-reviewed literature of New Zealand based research that has been undertaken with children in this area. Using a scientifically robust epidemiological design and observation instrument, a key aim of this research was to benchmark the prevalence of various coaching behaviours at children’s (aged 6 to 11 years) events for four major sports (rugby union, touch rugby, soccer, and netball). Utilising a mixed-methods approach, another key aim of this research was to give voice to sporting administrators, parents, children, referees/umpires, and coaches about the effects of parental behaviours at children’s sporting fixtures. The findings presented in this thesis provide prevalence and patterns of verbal coach behaviour from 72 sporting fixtures not previously recorded in New Zealand. In total, 10,697 coach comments were recorded at, on average, 3.71 (95% CI: 3.64, 3.79) comments/minute. The coaching behaviours recorded did not always reflect a nurturing, positive, developmentally-appropriate approach to the coaching of children’s team sports. Of the total number of comments recorded, 35.4% were categorised as positive, 21.6% as negative, and 43% as neutral. Significant differences in the distribution of comments were found between sports, with rugby union coaches recording the lowest percentage of positive comments and the highest percentage of negative comments. The percentage of negative comments aimed at umpires and officials was higher in touch rugby and in rugby union than in netball and soccer. Drawing upon Foucauldian notions of discourse, the discursive analysis employed in this study revealed the dominance of a sport as competition discourse that would appear to serve the needs more of coaches and parents than the needs of children. There is pressure on children, through disciplinary measures, to conform to the normative behaviours associated with a dominant competitive discourse in sport. The findings of this thesis are vital to promote understanding of the relationships between all the stakeholders in children’s sport. The results of this research provide an evidence-base to inform policy and the development of interventions with regions and nationally; evidence which may also be applicable to other developed countries. Until a child-centred approach to coaching is routinely adopted across all sports, the sometimes extremely negative perceptions of children’s sport will remain.

Sport , Children , Foucault , Sideline behaviour , Coach , Parent , Mixed methods
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