Understanding parents’ motives for, and beliefs about, enrolling three-to-five-year-old children into organised sporting programs

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In contemporary society, parents enrol children into organised sport from as young as three years of age. Although the benefits of sport participation are well documented, it is important to acknowledge early sport involvement can also prompt an increase injury risk, psychological burnout and/or sport dropout. Yet little is known about why parents enrol preschool aged children into organised sport, especially from a sociological perspective. Using a social constructionist theoretical framework, this study sought to explore parent motives for, and beliefs about, enrolling young children (aged three-to-five years) into organised sporting programs. The objectives of this study were to [1] understand the socially constructed motives, beliefs and attitudes that lead parents to encourage children into organised sport programs; [2] explore parents’ perceived benefits and challenges of engaging children into organised sport; and [3] identify broader social and cultural forces that influence parental decision-making surrounding young children’s contemporary sport participation. Individual, semi-structured interviews with 16 parents of children aged three-to-five years were transcribed verbatim and analysed using a reflexive thematic analysis. Three main themes developed from the analysis including the notions of urgency, futureproofing, and the sporting family. The results suggest that parental decision-making can be influenced by broader sociocultural, contextual, historical, and political forces which are perceived to construct, maintain, and perpetuate powerful ideologies that encourage children’s early sport involvement. From a social constructionist theoretical perspective, the findings highlight how social and health-related discourses, government programs, and past experiences emerge as dynamic yet highly influential forms of disciplinary power relating to parental decision-making. Recommendations for policymakers, researchers and parents are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-500
Number of pages20
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number4
Early online date28 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Children
  • organised sport
  • parents
  • thematic analysis
  • social constructionist


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