How to encourage children's interest in sports

Encourage an interest in sports

Can parents affect a child’s interest in sports?

In psychology, there’s a concept known as a “motivational climate.” This concept refers to a child’s view of the parents’, coaches’, and teachers’ encouragement. These are the pats on the back, looks, words, and voice tones. It’s the “Great jobs!” and “You can do betters.” The encouragement and feedback are generally intended to motivate a child. However, there are those comments that slip out” “What do you think you’re doing?” and “Look at how well Sally is playing.”

Back in the 1990s, Carole Ames1 identified two types of motivational climates: 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.”

(We can already see that comparing children is not going to go well.)

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 (i.e., encouraging work and effort – and individual improvement) 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.