Sports specialization and the family: examining the effects outside the lines

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Amanda R. Aguilar (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Diane Gill

Abstract: Sport Sociologist, Jay Coakley (2009), identified elite sport specialization as one of five trends in contemporary youth sports. Specialization within youth sports promotes single sport rather than multi-sport athletes, includes pressure to participate at the highest level as early as possible, and encourages year-round participation (Brenner, & Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 2016). While specialization may be advantageous in certain situations, the negative implications may be long term and affect multiple parties, including the family unit (LaPrade et al., 2016). The time and financial commitments required for participation can be a source of conflict within the family, often causing distress on the individual players (parents, athlete, siblings) as well as the marriage relationship. The purpose of this study was to explore how an athlete’s participation in sports specialization affects the family unit, focusing on the time and resource commitments along with effects on the individual actors (parents, athletes, siblings) as well as their relationships. Parents of athletes, ages 7-14, who have at least one child currently specializing completed a survey (n=100) and participated in an individual virtual interview (n=11) sharing their family’s elite sport experience. Most survey respondents stated that the athlete’s sport involvement had no effect on the marriage (60%), relationship with extended family (39%), or the athlete-sibling relationship (43%), but 45% of parents reported that the child’s sport participation placed a great deal of time commitment on the family. While the cost to participate in select sports can be high, most parents stated that the financial commitment placed little (39%) or no (43%) strain on the family. Over half (53%) of respondents stated that their athlete’s social life was positively affected by their sport participation. Analysis of the open-ended and interview data confirmed and added detail to the survey responses. Participants cited positive effects on family relationships and athlete development, with few negative effects. The relatively positive experiences may be partly due to the sample, participants were relatively well-off financially and most of the athletes were not highly specialized.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Family, Sports Specialization, Youth Sports
Sports for children $x Social aspects
Child athletes $x Family relationships

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