The Impact of Parental Pressure on Youth Sport


Performance enhancement has blown up across the sports world in recent years.

As records continue to be set and boundaries are pushed, outsides sources begin to play a huge factor in performance outcomes. Recent studies have targeted these sources that have the potential to impact athlete performance to find the best possible “combination” to maximize performance.

In one such domain of study, researchers have begun to look at youth performance and enjoyment, and more specifically the causes of burnout. Parental pressure is a likely cause for decreased enjoyment and increased burnout in youth sport as parental involvement is the greatest in adolescents and has the ability to change the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the child. Recent research has tested this relationship to further understand the impact others have on sport. If this impact is significant enough, it may then be of value to educate parents, coaches, and peers on effects their expectations have on the athlete, and given a more constructive way to support the athlete.



However, before diving knee deep in previous studies, it is important to operationally define the main points of focus in these studies to truly grasp the content:

  • Individual Sport– An activity practiced by two opposing individuals or one individual alone
    • Ex. Tennis, cross-country running, wrestling, alpine skiing, etc.
  • Team Sport– A sport competed between two teams with two or more players on each team
    • Ex. Soccer, basketball, hockey, rugby, etc.
  • Perceived parental pressure in sport– child’s perception of parent’s highly unlikely or unattainable expectations
  • Perceived parental support in sport– child’s perception of parent involvement and participation in sport
  • Enjoyment in sport– a positive emotional reaction to sport settings that reflect positive emotions
    • Ex. Fun and Love
  • Athlete burnout– the feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion, unhappiness in sport, and a decreased sense of achievement



To explain previous studies in the most simple terms, studies have been broken up into categories to demonstrate similarity across research.

Athlete Enjoyment

  • Past research found that combination of motivation and enjoyment increases the likelihood of continuing a sport (Faezeh, et. al, 2010, and Murica et. al, 2008)
  • Enjoyment in sport is significantly higher in athletes that have perceptions of autonomy (Murica et. al, 2008, and Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013, Amado et. al, 2015 and Faezeh et. al, 2013)

Parental Support/ Involvement

  • Parental involvement has a wildly positive impact on athlete success (Leff & Hoyle, 1995, and Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013)
  • Parental support is related to increased enjoyment, increased self-esteem and higher predictions of performance outcomes (Leff & Hoyle, 1995, and Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013).
  • Male wrestlers enjoyed their sport significantly more when their parents were involved (Leff & Hoyle, 1995)
  • Male and female basketball players experienced increased enjoyment when parental pressure was low (Leff & Hoyle, 1995)
  • Athletes enjoy sport more when their family is involved and are more likely to participate long-term in sport (Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013, Leff & Hoyle, 1995 and Kaye, Frith & Vosloo, 2014)
  • Canadian tennis players want their parents to be involved and have a preference for how much they want their parent to be involved
    • Don’t want coaching from the parent unless they have previous experience in the sport (Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013)

Parental Pressure

  • Parental pressure is related to the child’s fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, guilt and negative self-worth, high anxiety and unhappiness in sport involvement and participation (Leff & Hoyle, 1995)
  • High parental pressure is related to low feelings of self determination and autonomy, decrease in enjoyment and an increase in amotivation and boredom (Amado et. al 2015, and Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013).
  • Fear of not living up to parental expectations increases anxiety and decreases enjoyment in sport (Sanchez-Miguel et. al, 2013 and Kaye, Frith & Vosloo, 2014)

Athlete Burnout

  • High parental expectations or the “win at all costs” expectation leads to burnout in athletes (Kaye, Frith & Vosloo, 2014)
  • Unattainable goals of parents are likely to be adopted, failure continues and the athlete begins to dislike or avoid the sport (Kaye, Frith & Vosloo, 2014)

Individual vs. Team Sport Athletes

  • Individual sport athletes experience higher stress prior to competition than athletes on team sports (Leff & Hoyle, 1995)
  • Individual sport athletes are more likely to experience depression symptoms than team sport athletes and are ultimately more likely to experience burnout (Demirel, 2016)
  • Individual athlete feels more pressure than team sport athlete because they have to deal with parental pressures and performance pressures alone (Teichman, 1974, and Leff & Hoyle, 1995)



Little is known about the relationship between sport type (individual vs. team sport), perceived parental pressure, and enjoyment. Previous studies, in part shown above, have discussed combinations of these three factors, but there has been no research testing the relationship between all three in one study. If this study were to be done, it would look something like this:

  1. Participants would be obtained from a local elementary or middle school with the consent of parents prior to the study
  2. Participants would be either in an individual sport or team sport
    1. Groups are split evenly between the two sports and gender is neutralized across the two groups
  3. Participants would fill out three surveys: a Demographics survey, Perceived Parental Pressure Survey, and an Enjoyment Scale
  4. Participants are given a reward for participating in the study
  5. Through statistical testing, a conclusion may be drawn to determine whether the relationship between sport type, perceived parental pressure and enjoyment is significant
    1. one test runs sport type vs. perceived parental pressure
    2. other test runs perceived parental pressure (regardless of sport type) vs. enjoyment ratings

Several hypotheses could be made prior to testing this study including:

  • Individual sport athletes will report higher perceived parental pressure than team sport athletes
  • Athletes reporting higher perceived parental pressure will also report lower levels of enjoyment

This is just one example of a future study out of the vast amounts of research that still needs to be done to fully understand performance outcomes. Other research studies could test the difference between perceived parental pressure in high school vs. youth athletes, or simply the difference between perceived peer pressure and parental pressure in youth sport performance. Though it is still unclear as to whether parental pressure is the biggest factor behind varying levels of performance outcomes in youth sport, there is one take away message that should be shared with parents of youth athletes:

Let your kid play their sport, have fun and BE A KID.


From the words of Tiger Woods,

Don’t force your kids into sports. I never was. To this day, my dad has never asked me to go play golf. I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play. Fun. Keep it fun.




Amado, D., Sánchez-Oliva, D., González, Ponce I., Pulido-González, JJ., Sánchez-Miguel, P.A. (2015) Incidence of Parental Support and Pressure on Their Children’s Motivational Processes towards Sport Practice Regarding Gender. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128015. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128015

Demirel, H. (2016). Have university sport students higher scores depression, anxiety and psychological stress? International Journal of Environmental & Science Education,11(16), 9422-9425. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from

Faezeh, Z., Zahra, S., Ahmadian, M., Leila, Z., & Elham, F. (2013). The Comparison of Sources of Enjoyment between Young Girl Athletes of Team and Individual Sports. Research Journal of Sport Sciences,1(2), 41-44. Retrieved from

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Jowett, G. E., Hill, A. P., Hall, H. K., & Curran, T. (2013). Perfectionism and junior athlete burnout: The mediating role of autonomous and controlled motivation. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology,2(1), 48-61. doi:10.1037/a0029770

Kaye, M. P., Frith, A., & Vosloo, J. (2014). Dyadic Anxiety in Youth Sport: The Relationship of Achievement Goals With Anxiety in Young Athletes and Their Parents. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,27(2), 171-185. doi:10.1080/10413200.2014.970717

Leff, S. S., & Hoyle, R. H. (1995, April). Young athletes’ perceptions of parental support and pressure. Retrieved from

Murcia, J. A., Román, M. L., Galindo, C. M., Alonso, N., & González-Cutre, D. (2008, March 01). Peers’ influence on exercise enjoyment: A self-determination theory approach. Retrieved from

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New, J. (2019, February 28). Study: 1 in 4 College Athletes Show Signs of Depression. Retrieved February 18, 2019, from

O’Rourke, D. J., Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Cumming, S. P. (2011). Trait Anxiety in Young Athletes as a Function of Parental Pressure and Motivational Climate: Is Parental Pressure Always Harmful? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,23(4), 398-412. doi:10.1080/10413200.2011.552089

Sanchez-Miguel, P. A., Leo, F. M., Sanchez-Oliva, D., Amado, D., & Garcia-Calvo, T. (2013). The Importance of Parents’ Behavior in their Children’s Enjoyment and Amotivation in Sports. Journal of Human Kinetics,37, 169-177. doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0017

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Teichman, Y. (1974). Predisposition for anxiety and affiliation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,29(3), 405-410. doi:10.1037/h0035920

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