The Sport Psychologist

An important contemporary issue in terms of family involvement that is raised by Kay (2003) is “most sport research assumes the traditional model of the family… treating it as a one dimensional construct rather than a complex and variable social institution” (Kay, 2003: 44). This is a relevant issue for sports participation as factors such as financial and time support which shape continued participation are affected. From Kay’s (2003) research “two broad contemporary family scenarios need consideration from sport policy makers” (Kay, 2003: 56).

First how single parent families resource constraints, typically limited parental time and limited income, pose obstacles to providing opportunities for children to participate in sport. And second, parental time shortage in dual work households again posing obstacles to regular participation. It is thus important that future mass participation policy ensures the “family” is not seen as operating in one crude form and that contemporary situations are recognised. This along with Kay’s (2003) suggestion of more quantitative research into the links between family and sport participation should ensure continued involvement in active lifestyles.

Away from the family physical education plays an important role in acquiring and sustaining children’s interest in sport to encourage continued involvement outside of the school environment. This essay will argue in agreement of Houlihan (2000) that the National Curriculum for Physical Education (NCPE) was “constructed around conventional disciplines and traditional content” (Houlihan, 2000: 173) and as such forms the base of a pyramid structure for youth sport, where marked decreases in participation occur as development in sport increases (Kirk & Gorely, 2000).

Built into the pyramids design “is the systematic exclusion of young people” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 123) inhibiting continued participation in sport. It can be seen that this structure provision is stopping willing and able young athletes from continuing to participate in sport, as where does a young person go when they are prevented from reaching the next level. Recent initiatives such as PESSCL have aimed to “enhance the take-up of sporting opportunities by 5-16 year-olds through high quality P. E, and improving club links” (www. teachernet. gov. uk).

This along with Sport England’s 1999 non school based but still relevant “more people, more places more medals” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 123) approach shows modern policies taking an inclusive method, attempting to create situations where “participation in physical activity across the lifespan is promoted alongside an emphasis on elite development” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 124). Therefore sport development structure starting at the base of physical education, is an issue that has been recognised and acted upon to encourage progression through Cote and Hay’s developmental stages and continued participation in sport by children.

Along with structure both Penny (2000) and Houlihan (2000) criticised physical education for its exclusion of continued participation through content. The NCPE can be seen as narrow, centring on the “acquisition of physical characteristics associated with elite performance in selected sports” (Penny, 2000: 139). The “Raising the Game” initiative is a clear example of this as it “emphasized the priority of competitive team sports within the curriculum” (Houlihan, 2000: 173).

With such an exclusive content the curriculum can be seen as blocking participation to the specializing stage as it limits the number of sports children are exposed to at the sampling stage. The narrow focus in terms of skills and knowledge obtained could lead to children losing interest at an early stage or not having the skills to progress to the specializing stage, therefore not continuing in an active lifestyle. This exclusion issue is now being tackled by the government and catering for provision in physical education.

For example the Active Schools Programme (1999) that aims to provide all pupils with high quality, sustainable opportunities to learn foundation skills and participate in sports of their choice (Houlihan 2000). This along with Sport England’s “Sport for All” policy, are examples of initiatives promoting wider opportunities and participation in physical activity within and outside schools. This is the start of the “fundamental change to the framework” (Penny, 2000: 143) that is needed but as Houlihan argues there are very few mass participation initiatives.

I argue that there is still a performance emphasis in a narrow field within the NCPE, with programmes such as the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (a government-funded programme, aiming to help committed athletes combine their sport and education and develop their talent for the future) (www. tass. gov. uk) promoting excellence rather than mass level participation. The unbalance needs addressing to allow more children to access and continue to participate in a wider variety of activities through the development stages.

This could be achieved by emphasizing Siedentop’s educative goal which is “inclusive and primarily for the developmental benefits it provides participants” (Siedentop, 2002: 349) rather than pursuing a performance agenda. A final issue this essay will pursue is how relationships with coaches and peers affect participation. “The coach-athlete relationship can ultimately influence the athletes sport enjoyment and decision to continue participating in sport” (Cote, 2002: 523).

In Mcphail et al’s study all the coaches at Forest Athletic club had undertaken some form of coach education. This allowed them to be knowledgeable enough to create a “climate conducive to the educative goal” (Mcphail et al, 2003: 264). They focused on the development of the performer as a whole and created an enjoyable environment. Hence making the focus enjoyment rather than winning, a factor favourable to continued participation. This encouraged continued involvement into the specializing stage.

The education of coaches is a key issue for clubs and policy makers as educated coaches are more likely to create favourable conditions for continued participation and exert positive influences on children, again making them more likely to continue to participate. Without coach education clubs can operate “multiple agendas which contain conflicting expectations from coaches and athletes” (Kirk, 2003: 44). Mcphail et al also found that specializer’s “talked about the importance of friendship to their continuing participation” (Mcphail et al, 2003: 264).

I have experienced this myself with wanting to go to football every week to see friends that were not at my school. The clubs emphasis on the educative goal and enjoyment appeared to have assisted in this process. Therefore advocating once more coach education and the importance of clubs encouraging strong peer relationships to foster continued participation. This paper has shown that participation in youth sport is a complex social phenomenon which is very much multi dimensional issue. However throughout a common theme has emerged.

If “influential others” pursue a sport education agenda in the earlier stages of development it facilitates enjoyment which in turn leads to continued participation in the later stages of development. This has been shown in terms of parents, coaches, and schools. It has been shown that youth sport is a crowded policy space (Houlihan, 2000) with many parties often competing with conflicting interests, a prime example being National Governing bodies pursuing excellence and schools pursuing participation.

It is important for policy makers to have an objective view of youth sport taking into consideration contemporary social issues and formulating balanced policies, which allow the quest for excellence to stand side by side with mass participation allowing as many children as possible to continue to participate in an active life style. Word Count 1942


Cote, J. (1999) The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 395-417 Cote, J. (2002) Coach and peer influence on children’s development through sport, in: J. M. Silva & D. Stevens (Eds) Psychological Foundations of sport Boston: Merrill.

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