Organized youth sport, parenthood ideologies and gender relations: Parents' and children's experiences and the construction of "team family".
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While the importance and scope of children’s sport participation has been a topic of research, to date, few researchers have explored the impact organized youth sport may have on family life. In particular, little attention has been paid to the way in which family relationships, interactions, and values are shaped by children’s sport involvement. This study seeks to address this gap in the literature and the social and cultural context in which youth sport participation occurs. Specifically, the connection between children’s participation in youth sport and contemporary motherhood and fatherhood ideologies is explored, including the relation between youth sport and being a “good parent”. Changing parenting ideologies and their implications for gender relations are also addressed. An interpretive approach was used to discover behavioural, relational, and emotional aspects of youth sport and family life. The setting for the study was a rural community (which included both farm and non-farm residences) since such communities are characterized by fewer services (e.g., leisure facilities, public transportation, health care) and higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Semi-structured interviews and on-line participant journals (10 days duration) were used to discover divergent experiences of mothers, fathers, and children. A purposive sample of seven families (19 children, 7 mothers, and 6 fathers) participated in the study. Data analysis was guided by a constructivist grounded theory approach to facilitate understanding of participants’ perceptions and meanings of youth sport participation. The data revealed three major themes. The first theme “Understanding Children’s Experiences” relates to children’s perceptions of their scheduled lives, the impact organized sport has on their relationships with their siblings, and how they perceive their parents’ involvement and support. The second theme “Parenting in Public and Private Spaces” reveals the parents’ perspectives on the high cost of youth sport for the family unit (emotional, physical, and financial cost), how the parents’ involvement with the sport organization shapes the parent-child relationship, the judgment of other parents’ behaviours, and meaning and significance of being a “good parent”. The third theme that developed from the analysis, “The Nexus of Family Experiences”, illustrates the intersection of the children’s and parents’ perspectives. This theme reveals the complexity of the decision-making processes and the positive and negative experiences of youth sport for different family members. The core theme, “Upholding Team Family”, represents the culmination of the children’s and parents’ experiences, and helps to capture and integrate the insights gained from the analysis as a whole. This theme focuses on the centrality of organized youth sport in the construction of a sense of “team family”, as well as the sacrifices and contradictory aspects of maintaining this ideal. Further, the gendered nature of organized youth sport involvement and how rurality shapes the families’ sport involvement, are also discussed. The themes that emerged from this study reflect the contradictory nature of organized youth sport, including the strengthening of familial relationships, as well as the tensions and disagreements arising out of divergent perspectives. Emphasis is put on the public nature of parenting in the youth sport context and its relationship to social constructions of being a “good parent”. In terms of broader implications, the study emphasizes the close connection between organized youth sport, and changing cultural ideals and practices associated with gender and parenting.