The topic under examination
Researchers have long expressed interest in the impact of doing sports on children and adolescents. The chosen article investigates the perceived benefits of sports participation for children through their parents’ lens from a sports and exercise context. Young childhood is formative in many ways: it is a developmental period during which humans pass several essential milestones and experience growth surges. They go through personal, relational, physiological, psychological, and spiritual transitions that influence their future life outcomes. It is not a secret that children are naturally curious and inclined to be physically active and explore their surroundings. However, as Neely and Holt (2014) pointed out, nowadays, unsupervised, unrestricted active time outdoors was replaced by organized sports endorsed by both schools and parents. Contrary to popular belief, doing sports is not inherently negative or positive. Neely and Holt (2014) argue that desirable developmental outcomes are only possible if mentors consciously target them. That, parents play an essential role by “interpreting” sports to children, setting goals, and motivating them, which is why their perspectives should be studied.
The outcomes of the study
To understand the parents’ point of view, Neely and Holt held a series of semi-structured interviews with 22 Canadian parents whose children aged 5-8 participated in sports. Three overarching themes emerged from the interviews: personal, social, and physical benefits. Parents opined that doing sports helped children with well-rounded personality development. In particular, the environment they were put in promoted and nurtured desirable personal traits such as developing positive self-perceptions, personal responsibility, and fair play/sportspersonship. Social benefits manifested themselves in two dimensions – through children’s relationships with their friends and peers and in relation to authority. Lastly, parents highly evaluated the physical benefits that sports provide, both specialized skills, and overall health and wellness. From their perspective, children had an opportunity to adopt healthy habits early on and potentially keep them long-term.
How does the paper contribute to the literature?
The study by Neely and Holt (2014) contributes to the growing body of sports literature. Interestingly enough, the study’s findings undermine previous assumptions about the benefits of sports and the ways in which children who participate in sports activities can reap them. Neely and Holt (2014) highlight the commonly held belief reflected in the PYD-sport literature that coaches intentionally teach children about the advantages of sports. Apparently, the best way of teaching might stem not from purposeful efforts but from creating a nurturing atmosphere in which children feel free to explore. At that, parents play a more important role than coaches as they are the primary agents of socialization for children. Mothers and fathers spend more time with their children, so they have better chances to instill the right values and motivate their offspring to pursue sports.
The limitations the authors exposed
For all its advantages, the study has its own set of limitations. Firstly, the parents of boys were overrepresented in the sample with a ratio of almost three to one. Apart from that, Neely and Holt (2014) admit that children’s perspectives were absent from the study, which means that the picture is not quite full. Lastly, inferring the results and translating them into practice does raise some questions because the participating families belong exclusively to the middle/ upper-middle class.
Limitations that were noticed
One limitation that the authors do not mention is the excessive focus on the benefits of sports. In the methodology section, there is a tentative outline of the interview. Barriers to benefitting from sports are mentioned; in fact, there is a separate question inquiring about this aspect. Yet, when showing results, Neely and Hold (2014) do not pay as much attention to barriers and challenges. For this reason, the perception of children’s organized sports activities may be somewhat skewed, as ideally, it should include both the positive and the negative sides.
The particular strengths of the paper
Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss some of the apparent strengths of the study. The present research is quite novel as it departs from the previous focus on adolescents and shifts it to young children. This decision is justified as it allows us to understand the development of sports habits and attitudes starting in early childhood. Secondly, it was important to examine the perceived benefits of sports participation. At present, there is an ample body of research discussing positive physiological and psychological changes associated with doing sports and being physically active. However, an important aspect that is often overlooked is the meaning that individuals assign to sports and how they interpret their benefits. It is often a person’s attitude that determines whether they will be able to fully enjoy all the advantages of sports or not.
Was the intervention appropriate for the problem presented in each case?
This study is not a trial; therefore, one cannot really speak of any intervention. Yet, it is possible to evaluate whether the chosen methodology was a good fit for research goals. It seems that the interviews met the authors’ expectations as they allowed themes to emerge naturally. The interviews were semi-structured, which is why parents were not constrained or limited to a predetermined number of topics. Conversely, a survey would impose these topics on participants and stifle their freedom of thought.
What were the “tell-tale” signs of homesickness which were displayed by the athlete in this situation?
The tell-tale signs of homesickness in athletes can be put into several distinct categories. At the physical level, when a young athlete is taken away from a familiar setting, they may be losing appetite and having trouble falling asleep. From a cognitive standpoint, homesick athletes are prone to negative judgments about a new place and obsessive thoughts about home. They may exhibit avoidant behaviors and be reluctant to engage in new activities. Emotionally, depressed mood and nervousness are not uncommon.
Neely, K. C., & Holt, N. L. (2014). Parents’ perspectives on the benefits of sport participation for young children. The Sport Psychologist, 28(3), 255-268.