How Parents Can Encourage an Interest in Sports
How Parents Can Encourage an Interest in Sports

We have two boys in Timbits soccer, which is soccer for the incredibly young in our area. Their age comes out on the field. During the game, our four year old is finally running in the direction of the ball – although not touching it. Our two year old is more interested in tackling his brother and watching the tennis players near the field than the soccer ball.

I realize that their apathy and – well – lack of ability is in large part due to age. Yet, there are young kids who seem to be a lot more interested and natural on the field than others. The impressive abilities are amplified in the older kids playing soccer. Our kids turning into ones who can dribble, pass, and score seems … well, not likely.

I figure that our kids’ enthusiasm and skill would be affected by our involvement. And I’ve wondered how to encourage their interest (rather than apathy) in sports.

There is such a thing as creating a motivational climate. This concept refers to a child’s view of the parents’, coaches’, and teachers’ encouragement that’s meant to create an achievement mindset. These are the pats on the back, looks, words, and voice tones. It’s the “What the f-cks?” and “Great jobs!”

Back in the 1990s, Carole Ames1 identified two types of motivational climate: task-involving and ego-involving.

A task-involving climate involves encouraging skill mastery, effort, and individual improvement.

An ego-involving climate involves comparison between individuals/groups and emphasizing the “norm.”

Sorry for the definitions. So dry. But stay with me. There’s a purpose.

Since the inception of the definitions, there has been substantial research in this area – especially with children and sports. The research consistently comes back that creating a task-involving climate sees better results for children and adolescence. Under this climate, children feel happier,2 have higher self-esteem,3 and persist in sports.4

Research also suggests that coaches and teammates have a substantial influence on motivation as do parents.5


How can parents encourage a task-involving motivational climate? These are the three basics that need to be reinforced:6

  • Mastering basic skills
  • Putting in effort
  • Having fun

It’s nice that the list is short.



1 Ames, C. (1992). Achievement goals, motivational climate, and motivational processes. In G. C. Roberts (Ed.), Motivation in Sport and Exercise (pp. 161-176). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

2 Newton, M., & Duda, J. L. (1999). The interaction of motivational climate, dispositional goal orientations, and perceived ability in predicting indices of motivation. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 30, 63-82.

3 Slutzky, C. B., & Simpkins, S. D. (2009). The link between children’s sport participation and self-esteem: exploring the mediating role of sport self-concept. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 10, 381-389.

4 Le Bars, H., Gernigon, C., & Ninot, G. (2009). Personal and contextual determinants of elite young athletes’ persistence or dropping out over time. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 19, 274-285.

5 White, S. A., & Duda, J. L. (1993). The relationship between goal orientation and parent-initiated motivational climate among children learning a physical skill. In Paper presented at the 8th world meeting for the International Society for Sports, Psychology, Lisbon, Portugal.

6 Atkins, M. R., Johnson, D. M., Force, E. C., & Petrie, T. A. (2015). Peers, parents, and coaches, oh my! The relation of the motivational climate to boys’ intention to continue in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 170-180.

Image Attribution

LuMaxArt Golden Guy Soccer Football 02” by Scott Maxwell. CC2.0.