Great resource for (American) sports parents

Johan Fallby
Halmstad University

Jim Taylor
Raising Young Athletes: Parenting Your Children to Victory in Sports and Life
165 pages, hardcover.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield 2018
ISBN 978-1-5381-0811-6

In the academic world, in sports organizations and among sports parents in the Western world, the interest in optimizing the role of parents has increased in recent years. One reason for this, for example, is the professionalization of sports. Elite sports organizations are looking for the next big star and sometimes think they can identify them better than others. Although much of existing research contradicts this (Bailey & Collins, 2013; Bergeron, Mountjoy, Armstrong, Chia, Côté, Emery, and others, 2015). Another driving force is parents who are happy to see that their children get the chance to live their dreams and that sports have been given a higher status as a career choice or opportunity in life (Harwood& Knight, 2015). The importance of parents for children’s active lifestyle and exercise behavior is also likely to play a part in the development (Beets, Cardinal, & Alderman, 2010). As a result, not only are there education programs for sports parents, but sport psychology advisors or literature of various kinds are also beginning to find their way into the sports landscape (Fallby, 2015; Thrower, Harwood, & Spray, 2016). An example of this is Jim Taylor’s book Raising young athletes: Parenting your children to victory in sports and life.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. is a prominent figure within sports psychology in the United States and has written a number of books on the topic, including books specifically aimed at sports parents. In addition, he practices as a sports psychologist in relation to elite athletes and provides training and lectures on related subjects. Today he works in sports management programs at the University of San Francisco.

The book is divided into five parts with a simple and effective structure. In part one, “Four Pillars of Athletic Success”, Taylor highlights four concepts that the parent can convey and process with their child: norms and values, self-perception, ownership, and perspective. These should give them a healthy platform to stand on in their continued sporting and the message is that parents have a great responsibility. Part two, “Five obstacles to athletic success”, similarly addresses five obstacles that are common along the way. Investing too much in terms of, for example, time, money, emotions or energy often becomes laborious for everyone involved. What you expect for a ‘return’ on your investment and how you react during the trip is the common theme. Pitfalls like perfectionism, fear of failure, emotions and expectations of both yourself and your child are also addressed.

The third and fourth parts deal more with the role of the parent, although this is the overall theme of the book. “Your role in your children’s athletic lives” describes what needs and responsibilities both you as a parent and your child have in relation to sports. It also provides an insight into how the parent can guide the child to the joy of sports. “Send the right messages to your young athletes” describes the importance of relevant and appropriate communication with children. They simply become the kind of information they get the most of. It sounds simple but there are many different people and messages that have the power to influence. Parents are absolutely important, although their importance diminishes with age; there are also coaches, other leaders, friends inside and outside of sports, teachers, relatives, idols, media and more. In addition, today there are many channels in which the child acts, such as social media and all the relationships that exist around them. The final section, “Dos and don’ts for sports parents”, delivers exactly what the title states, well-defined tips and advice on what should be done or avoided. There is more of it in the running text throughout the book, but it is distinctly carved out here.

However, having said that, there are some really good and useful takeaways if you as a reader manage to ignore the objectionable features.

Raising young athletes is probably primarily targeted at those parents who think or believe their kids could or should invest in an elite career, or at least will give it a try. Nevertheless, it starts with how to help the child into sports from a relatively early age. The theoretical foundation is not so well documented because references are few and a lot is based on quotes and references to websites. It may not have that great significance, since the text, in my opinion, is clearly based on existing research and well adapted to the target group of interested parents. In addition, coaches and trainers should have the necessary qualifications to make use of the book. References or suggestions for further reading would have strengthened the book’s message, as the research interest in the area has increased and there are presently many studies that describe the role of sports parent well. It would also give additional weight to the arguments for those of us who have an extra interest in further studies.

Taylor’s book is well thought out and contains facts, ideas and advice of great merit. It is based partly on theory and research in suitable measures for a parent or coaches, and advice and tips are interspersed in the text, but also centered on the concluding part. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to reconcile myself with the American perspective that is conveyed. Maybe this is based on my own generalizations, but the content becomes almost pompous at times, and the reader (I in this case) gets the impression that being a sports parent is perhaps the most important thing in the child’s life and perhaps also the most difficult. For me, it gets a little ‘too much’ and slightly difficult to grasp for several reasons – partly the cultural differences between the Anglo-Saxon part of the world and Scandinavia, and partly that there is such a wealth of information that it is difficult to screen. It’s sometimes too much and too complex. However, having said that, there are some really good and useful takeaways if you as a reader manage to ignore the objectionable features.

For me, the message to parents is that it is possible to maintain a relaxed attitude to sports and to successes or failures that come with it, and that the most important thing is that the child retains the joy of their chosen sport. ‘Present but not governing’ is a simple message that every person has a chance to relate to. It is also relatively well supported in research. Being a sports parent is both complex and simple, but it is possible to maintain a level where parental support helps the child to enjoy sports (Visek, Achrati, Manning, McDonnell, Harris, & DiPietro, 2015), parents are involved in building healthy relationships around sports group (Jowett, & Timson-Katchis, 2005) and where parents contribute to the creation of autonomy (Gaudreau, Morinville, Gareau, Verner-Filion, Green-Demers, & Franche, 2016 ). This message is partly found in the book, but there is so much more information that that point becomes obfuscated.

Another prominent scholar who educates coaches and sports parents in the United States, Jim Thompson, expresses it well in the beginning of his blurb: “Jim Taylor’s book has lots of insights for sports parents.” He goes on to say that “His analysis of the current status of youth sports is spot on”, but that, in my opinion, does not fit well in a Swedish context. The view of parenthood in Swedish children’s and youth sports, and the professionalization of children’s and youth sports are quite different than the American approach. And that sits well with me.

Copyright © Johan Fallby  2020


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