Write It Out: Examining Recreational Youth Sport Parent Emotions Through an Expressive Writing Exercise
Keywords:youth sport, parents, expressive writing, sport parents, parent emotions
Youth sport parents experience an array of emotions as part of their child’s youth sport experience. This may include emotions related to watching their child play, supporting their child’s emotions, or simply related to daily parenting responsibilities. This research examined youth sport parent emotions through an expressive writing exercise. Twelve parents completed a total of 32 expressive writing exercises. In each exercise, parents were asked to write about their emotions as a youth sport parent. Quantitative analysis with Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker et al., 2015) software and qualitative thematic analysis were employed to analyze writings. Results indicate that though parents experienced both positive and negative emotions, negative emotions were most common and salient. Thematic analysis resulted in six themes, including one theme related to positive emotions (happiness for child experience), and five themes related to negative emotions: 1) general stress and negativity, 2) responsibilities, 3) role as parent, 4) coach, and 5) performance. Results also lead to practical implications for park and recreation administrators. First, as substantial stress is related to the time and financial responsibilities associated with sport parenting, organizations may wish to seek ways to support parents including through scholarship funds, and facilitating communication and duty sharing among parents. Parent education programs may also be a way to help parents navigate their own emotions related to parenting roles. Coaches were also a source of negative emotions for parents, though not always for the same reasons. Youth sport organizations can facilitate coach-parent communication to ensure that parent-coach goals are aligned, and provide training for coaches in both sport-specific skills and positive youth development. In addition to facilitating coach-parent communication, organizations may also encourage child-parent communication related to goals. This could include email communications with exercises designed to encourage specific conversations about goals of youth sport participation. Each of these implications is tied directly to negative emotions expressed by parents as part of this research. Assisting parents with these emotions will improve the experience for both the parent and will likely enable the youth participant to have a more positive experience as well.
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