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Webinar replay: Mastering the art of sports parenting

In this webinar, we talked with international sport parenting expert Professor Camilla Knight. Camilla outlined the various strategies that parents can employ to: 

  • Increase the chances that their child reaches their sporting potential
  • Enhance their child’s likelihood of having positive sport experience and developing a love for sport 
  • Support their child to get positive developmental benefits from sport 

Webinar outline 

00:03:00 – Introductions from Prof. Camilla Knight and introduction to the session 

00:08:16 – The importance of parents for supporting young people in sport 

00:15:37 – Understanding the complexity of parenting in sport 

00:19:28 – What are the desired outcomes in youth sport and how can parents support these outcomes? 

00:23:22 – Selecting the appropriate sporting opportunities for you child and providing the necessary types of social support 

00:27:17 – Adapt your involvement and support to different stages of your child’s athlete development and progression 

00:32:25 – Consider the broader parenting style or emotional climate you are creating. 

00:35:10 – Manage the emotional demands of competition and serve as emotionally intelligent role models of their child. 

00:41:26 – Manage the demands placed on you when trying to support your child in youth sport 

00:44:04 – Foster and maintain healthy relationships with others in the youth sport environment 

00:49:43 – Key take home messages

Key takeaways from the webinar 

How should we think about parent involvement in the youth sport experience and why are parents important? 

What are the three things parents need to do to ensure that their child gets the maximum benefits from sport? 

What are the six key areas good sports parents need to master? 

  1. Selecting the appropriate sporting opportunities for their child and providing the necessary types of social support. 
  2. Adapting involvement and support to different stages of their child’s athletic development and progression. 
  3. Considering the broader parenting style or emotional climates that they create. 
  4. Managing the emotional demands of competition and serving as emotionally intelligent role models for their child. 
  5. Managing the demands placed on them when trying to support their child in youth sport.
  6. Fostering and maintaining healthy relationships with others in the youth sport environment. 

How should we think about parent involvement in the youth sport experience and why are parents important? 

It takes a village to support a child’s sport experience (coaches, administrators, officials, etc.). Importantly, parents have a unique and critical role in this. Some of the unique ways in which parents influence their child’s sporting experience include: 

  • They help with logistics and resources (transport, money, etc.). 
  • They show whether and how much sport is valued, and by virtue can pass on similar value-judgements to their children.  
  • They act as an interpreter of different sporting experiences, and by virtue socialise young people how to interpret certain sporting experiences (e.g. reacting to winning and losing; whether to focus on winning or effort, etc.). 

When trying to be a ‘better sports parent’, we need to remember that parenting is a complex social experience. We shouldn’t just think of sport parenting as “right” and “wrong’s” or “do’s” and “don’t’s”. Some of the complex dilemmas that sport parents need to manage include: 

  • How to manage sport schedules, especially when they are busy and conflict (with other sport programmes and/or non-sport activities)? 
  • Knowing what to say to your child in different sport circumstances. 
  • Knowing what to do before, during, and after competition/matches. 
  • Managing relationships with other adults involved in their child’s sport experience (coaches, other parents, etc.).  

Despite the complexity of sport parenting, good sport parenting is underpinned by focusing on the following three outcomes (noting at times, some of these will need to be balanced): 

  • Increasing the chances for their child to reach their sporting potential (whatever that might be). 
  • Increasing the chances of their child having a positive sporting experience (and ultimately growing to love sport). 
  • Helping their child to get positive biological and psychosocial developmental benefits from and through sport. 


As a parent, how might your behaviour within your child’s sport experience (e.g. what you do on the sideline; what you say in the car ride home; the decisions you make or support your child to make about schedules, what sports to play, etc.), support or hinder your child to meet the above three objectives? 

What are the three things parents need to do to ensure that their child gets the maximum benefits from sport? 

Parents need to: 

  • Exercise self-care with themselves, so that they are in a good position to help their child. 
  • Take care of the relationship between themselves and their child. 
  • Take care of the relationships between themselves and other stakeholders (coaches, other parents, etc.) that also impact on their child’s sport experience. 


As a parent, does one of the areas above warrant further attention from yourself? What might your experiment with or do differently? 

What are the six key areas good sports parents need to master? 

1 – Parents select the appropriate sporting opportunities for their child and provide the necessary types of social support. 

Good sport parenting starts with understanding what you child wants from their sport. Hint: communication between parent and their child is paramount here. Having conversations about ‘what a child enjoys from sport, and what a child would like to achieve from sport’ will help parent’s to tailor how they support, and what type of sporting environments they can guide, facilitate, support children towards. 

With regards to support, parents need to be mindful that how they support will change over time and at different stages, as well as depending on the different types of sport environments. It’s important to talk to your child at ‘key moments’ (e.g. changing clubs, changing teas, moving schools, moving from primary to intermediate, or intermediate to secondary, changing friendship groups, going through puberty). These key moments are points where what a child might want from sport might change. As a parent, recognising these key moments, so they can communicate with their child around those periods is critical. ‘Want my child wants is now changing, so how I support may now need to change. 

2 – Parents adapt their involvement and support to different stages of their child’s athletic development and progression. 

Parents should recognise that what a child needs when they are 7-9 is different than what a child needs when they are 12-14, which is very different again for what a child needs when they are 15-16. Correspondingly, the way in which parents support their children will likely need to change as young people grow, progress and transition. 

To do this, parents need to be able to recognise ‘key moments’. Examples of key moments include: changing clubs, changing teams, moving schools, moving from primary to intermediate, or intermediate to secondary, changing friendship groups, going through puberty. Ultimately, these key moments, are transitions that potentially will influence a child’s motivation in sport to change. Parents should be aware of the ‘key moments’ and look to converse with their child pre, during and after these key moments so that they can check whether how they support their child needs to change.  

Parents should also be aware that other stakeholders (e.g. coaches) need from parents may change – especially if young people are progressing though a developmental or performance pathway. At various key moments parents should reflect on: 

  • Who is part of my child’s sport journey? (e.g. just a parent and child; parent, child and coach; parent, child, coach and wider support network, etc.) 
  • Who do we need to be talking to? 
  • Who should be taking on different roles? 
  • What does my child need from all of us? 

Parents need to be mindful that at some of these key moments, children will encounter challenges. Parents shouldn’t try to make these challenges as easy as possible, but rather support children through these times, and help children to learn from these challenges or other novel events. 

3 – Parents should consider the broader parenting style or emotional climate that they create. 

The majority of research indicates that an authorative parenting style is most conducive to young people’s development in sport (n.b. this is caveated with the acknowledgement that the majority of this literature has been based on western middle-class families and parents). 

What this looks like is providing responsive support. This means parents act and support their children in a way that validates their child and shows that they care and understand. They provide their child autonomy to decide (within an appropriate framework or boundaries). It doesn’t mean parents enable their child to do every single thing that they want; and it doesn’t mean that the child always gets their own way. Parents do, however, engage in conversations with their child about why something is not possible. 

4 – Parents manage the emotional demands of competition and serve as emotionally intelligent role models for their child. 

Given the time and energy a child invests into sport, and their goals and aspirations, its understandable for a parent to be invested into their child’s sport, and the outcome of competitions.  Importantly here, parents need to recognise their responsibility to role model mature responses to different competition experiences and outcomes. 

Parents that spend a little bit of time anticipating what might happen in a competition might help parents to prepare a little bit to the various scenarios, the emotions that they might experience and how they might respond. 

Other ways parents may look to manage the emotional demands of competition include: 

  • Talking and sharing their experiences and learning from other parents.  
  • Recognise that on the side-line there is no right or wrong thing to do (despite what the parent culture around your child’s sport might explicitly or implicitly insinuate). Listening to music or a podcast while watching may help to calm some parents. Alternatively, for parents that feel like they need to be involved, asking the coach for a task (such as counting specific statistics e.g. tackles, passes etc), may help with managing emotions. 

5 – Parents manage the demands placed on them when trying to support their child in youth sport 

As outlined in the diagram below, there are a variety of demands that parents will likely need to manage to support their child in their sport.  

To manage these demands parents are encouraged to anticipate upcoming demands in a given season. Some questions that parents might find useful to reflect on this include: 

  • What sort of challenges might I and my child encounter? 
  • Where might there be demands arising, where might there be pinch points? 
  • Who can I draw on, who is my support network who can help me cope with some of these demands? 
  • Where can I learn more about what’s to come in the next stage of my child’s sporting journey? Is there anything I can read or watch, or anybody that I can talk to such as other parents or coaches? 

6 – Parents foster and maintain healthy relationships with others in the youth sport environment. 

Key things that parents can do to foster and maintain healthy relationships include: 

Talking to and sharing experiences with other parents. 

Engaging with coach/es early in the season to get an understanding about expectations and the coaching philosophy. Noting, if parents don’t agree with the coaching philosophy they may consider looking at alternative options (understandably easier said than done at times). Additionally, conversations with coaches should occur within respectful boundaries (i.e. don’t call late in a Sunday night). 

For parents that feel like they need to engage in a difficult conversation with a coach t (e.g. concerns around coaching decisions, different views, etc) the following tips should be considered: 

  • If a concern hasn’t been raised by your child, check-in with them beforehand to see if it’s a cause for concern with them. 
  • Matters should not be raised with a coach in front of the child, no matter how old. 
  • Matters should be raised with a coach in private and ideally in a scheduled manner. 
  • These types of conversations should be approached with a real genuine desire to understand the other’s point of view.  

Key take home messages 

  1. Parents are a vital part of children’s sporting journey – recognise how important you as parents are to your child’s sport experiences  
  2. There are a number of ways to enhance parents positive influence – and to be involved in the best way possible we need to understand why our children are involved in sport.   
  3. However its not always easy and requires a range of skills and support – We need to look after ourselves, look after our children and look after the relationships we have with others that are involved in our children’s sporting experience (i.e. coaches) 

Read more: What makes an expert sports parent? 


Elliott, S., Drummond, M., & Knight, C. J. (in press). The experiences of being a talented youth athlete: Lessons for parents. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology [accepted on the 17th September, 2017]. 

Knight, C. J., Harwood, C. G., & Berrow, S. R. (2017). Parenting in Sport. Current Opinion in Psychology16, 93-97 

Hayward, F. P. I.,* Knight, C. J.*, & Mellalieu, S. D.  (2017). A longitudinal examination of stressors, appraisal, and coping in youth swimming. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 29, 56-68.  

Knight, C. J., Lowe, R. Edwards, M., Yardley, J.E., Bain, S. C., & Bracken, R. M. (2016). Type 1 diabetes and physical activity: An assessment of knowledge and needs in healthcare practitioners. Journal of Diabetes Nursing, 20, 271-272. 

Figgins, S. Smith, M., Sellars, C., Greenlees, I., & Knight, C. J. (2016). “You really could be something quite special”: A qualitative exploration of athletes’ experiences of being inspired in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 24, 82-91. 

Burgess, N. S., Knight, C. J., & Mellalieu, S. D. (2016). Parental stress and coping in elite youth gymnastics: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise, and Health, 8, 237-256. 

Knight, C. J., Little, G. C. D., Harwood, C. G., & Goodger, K. (2016). Positive Parental Involvement in Elite Youth Slalom Canoe. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28, 234-256.  

Knight, C. J., Dorsch, T. E., Osai, K. V., Haderlie, K. L., & Sellars, P. A. (2016). Parents’ experiences, expectations, and involvement in organized youth sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 5, 161-178. 

Harwood, C. G., & Knight, C. J. (2015). Parenting in youth sport: A position paper on parenting expertise. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 16, 24-35. 

Knight, C. J., & Holt, N. L (2014). Parenting in youth tennis: Understanding and enhancing children’s experiences. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 15, 155-164. 

Knight, C. J., & Holt, N. L. (2013). Strategies used and assistance required to facilitate children’s involvement in competitive tennis: Parents’ perspectives. The Sport Psychologist, 27, 281-291. 

Knight, C. J., & Holt, N. L. (2013). Factors that influence parents’ experiences at junior tennis tournaments and suggestions for improvement. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 2, 173-189. 

Knight, C. J., Neely, K. C., & Holt, N. L. (2011). Parental involvement in team sports: How do athletes wants parents to behave? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23, 76-92. 

Knight, C. J., Boden, C. M., & Holt, N. L. (2010). Junior tennis players’ preferences for parental behaviors. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 377-391.  

Harwood, C. G., Drew, A., & Knight, C. J., (2010). Parental stressors in professional youth football academies: A qualitative investigation in specializing stage parents. Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise Sciences, 2, 39-55.  

Knight, C. J., & Harwood, C. G. (2009). Parent-initiated coaching stress: A developmental study. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 545-565.  

Harwood, C., & Knight, C. J. (2009). Understanding parental stressors: An investigation of British tennis-parents. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27, 339-351.  

Harwood, C., & Knight, C. J. (2009). Stress in youth sport: A developmental investigation of tennis parents. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 447-456.