Introduction to Sport: Parents and Family Culture

Sourced from; R&A Women’s and Girls’ Charter.

’Contact with golf from childhood facilitates participation in the game’’ (Reis & Correia, 2013) 

A large body of research has identified that the ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge of the family people grow up with as the chief factor underpinning their tendency to play sport – often referred to as ‘family culture’ (including: Atkins et al, 2015; Elliott & Drummond, 2017; Roberts, 2015, 2916; Wheeler & Green, 2014; Wheeler 2011). Parents, for example, taxi their children to and from activities; finance participation; buy (often expensive) sporting equipment; watch their children frequently, if not all the time; and encourage ongoing participation. It has been found that parents see engaging in leisure together as a way of enhancing the family as a cohesive, communicative and bonded unit. It helps foster a ‘sense of family’ and ‘memories of having goof times together’ (Elliott & Drummond, 2017). 

Similarly, Kitching (2018) draws attention to a survey of 1,000 females that found 65% of respondents identified their husbands, partners, parents and other family members as the primary reasons why they took up golf, with almost 9 out of every 10 golfers surveyed having another member of the household that participated. 

It is not just parents who play a key role in sport participation, but increasingly it is grandparents too. Research by Hebblethwaite (2017) found that grandparent-grandchild connections are lasting longer than ever before as increased longevity and decreased fertility rates have changed family structure significantly over the past two decades. Grandparents today are more likely to live longer, be in better health, be more highly educated, more likely to have retired, and have fewer grandchildren. Grandparents, therefore, represent an excellent opportunity through which to promote whole family participation in golf, given the current aging demographic of golf club membership. 

Roberts and colleagues (2015, 2016), based at the University of Liverpool, go so far to say that attempting to increase sports participation using measures targeted at adults, often employed by sports organisations, are likely to be set up to fail. This is because differences in levels of adult sport participation are formed during childhood and post-childhood experiences play a relatively small impact. The best strategy for boosting family participation in golf then, would be to maximise participation amongst children and minimise drop-out during the next life-stage.   

There is a strong evidence base, then, that parents’ beliefs and values towards sport affects children’s sports participation at an early age and lasts long into adulthood. Research projects which have strived find out the motivations for people getting into golf − including Williams and colleagues (2013), Ries and Correia (2014), and Ivarsson (2013) − found that 100% of their participants said they took up the sport because of family members. The important question, then, is what are the factors that influence which sports parents ‘choose’ for their children to take part in? Wheeler and Green (2014), from the University of Chester, aimed to uncover the motivations for sports participation by interviewing a number of parents and their children. Their results revealed a clear set of goals, strategies and practices that parents employ when selecting what activities their children should be taking part in. Parents’ choices were made depending on: 

1) ‘Outcomes gained through sport’: These are the benefits parents believed their children would get from taking part. Enjoyment in the activity, improved levels of fitness and health, and opportunities to develop friendships were the most important reasons for taking part. 

2) ‘Generative parenting’: This refers to the effect that parents’ sporting backgrounds influenced their motivations for their children’s involvement. Interestingly, it was found that parents who were not previously involved in sports themselves wanted their children to try a range of different sports, and to have experiences their parents had not had. Whereas those parents who were sporty wanted their children to play similar sports to them and have similar experiences. 

3) ‘Cultural’: This refers to parents’ beliefs on what constitutes ‘good parenting’. Results show that being involved in at least two activities outside school was something of a requirement – it was good parenting. These sport-related behaviours and beliefs were communicated through groups of families formed at school, housing estates, and clubs. The golf industry must be acutely aware of the significance of other families in shaping parenting goals, strategies, and practices regarding family golf participation. Other families are viewed as a reliable source of information regarding the sports available, where, when, and what clubs were best. They also play important roles in lift sharing, etc. Word of mouth plays an important part in family golf participation.

The health benefits associated with sport are, unsurprisingly, a key motivation for parents when deciding what sports their families should be involved in. Golf is perfectly placed to provide the wider health benefits parents crave, particularly when compared with other contact-based sports. A project by Murray and colleagues (2017), published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine (BJSM), found evidence of a positive link between playing golf and improved levels of health. Via conducting a wide-ranging review of health research, it was established that the moderate intensity physical activity golf provides leads to improved cardiovascular and respiratory health and wellness.  

Similarly, Farahmand and colleagues (2009), featuring in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found reduced levels of mortality in their study of Swedish golfers when compared with national levels of mortality. Results showed an average of 40% lower mortality across men and women in all age groups and socioeconomic categories. Furthermore, the lowest handicap golfers, who were said to have played golf most frequently, had the lowest mortality rates. Overall, the 40% reduction in mortality was equated to an increase in life expectancy of around 5 years.

A number of research projects conducted in golf have found that the low visibility of females in golf settings leads male family members (fathers, husbands and partners) to be the key influencers in women and other family members taking up the sport (Reis & Correia 2013; Shin & Nam 2004). This scenario, it is argued, can actually serve to cement the notion of male dominance in the golf environment, given that those women who do get introduced to golf are strongly influenced by male significant others. This research highlights the important role that female golfers and female family members play in promoting family golf participation. 

Interestingly, research conducted outside of golf has found that in families where there are opposite sex children, fathers tended to be more involved with their sons’ sport and mothers with their daughters’. The origins of this dynamic may stem from the parental gender stereotypes that fathers tend to be the ‘coaches’ that introduce children to a sport, whereas mothers have been viewed as the ‘taxi drivers’ (Wheeler, 2011, 2014). This is particularly concerning for promoting family golf participation, where there are already fewer female golf participants to encourage their daughters’ participation. Perhaps even more concerning is that some studies have found that both parents, on average, tend to support and encourage their sons’ sports participation more, perceive sons as more able in sport, and value sport more for their sons than their daughters (see Dixon and colleagues (2015, 2016), from The University of Texas). It is important that golf seeks to challenge these gender stereotypes and promotes golf as a whole family activity. 

 There is also evidence that parental motivations for sports participation can differ depending on socioeconomic class. Harrington (2015), for example, interviewed 28 working- and middle-class families to reveal that families in different social classes emphasise particular values and imagined futures for their children in regards to family leisure. Results found that middle-class parents wanted to provide their children with sport activities they believed would equip them with ‘lifelong skills’. These parents wanted their children to take part in activities that helped build character, develop social skills and independence, make friends outside the family, and reinforce overall healthy habits. Working-class and poor families, on the other hand, had fewer organised activities but tended to make their own pastimes inexpensive yet enjoyable for the whole family. The common aim of this group was to achieve family togetherness and bonding rather than teaching a variety of skills. It was hoped these experiences would last long into the future and help keep their children away from ‘bad influences’’. 

Interestingly, parents in middle class families also tended to have an increased desire to see themselves, and for others to see them, in a particular light that displayed the kind of family they are (Harrington, 2015). Taking part in certain leisure activities served to support what parents were doing was worthwhile and that is was a valued ‘good’ family leisure activity. In other words, middle class parents wanted to ensure that they are ‘doing family’ in a ‘good’ way. This group placed more importance on the rewards achieved for sporting achievements and were more likely to refer to their children as ‘talented’.