Parents’ Motivations for Enrolling Children in a Private Gymnastic Program

This study examined factors that motivated parents to involve their children in a gymnastic program. The gymnasts (N = 156) were predominantly female (n = 136, 87%) and ranged from 2 to 18 years of age (M = 7.5, SD = 3.2). Gymnasts were classified as recreational (n = 109, 70%) or competitive (n = 47, 30%). Multiple-choice items addressed the domains of skill mastery, ego competitiveness, fitness, team membership, fun and excitement, recognition, and affiliation. In rank order, the reasons that parents of competitive and recreational gymnasts supported a child’s participation in the gymnastic program were fitness (M = 4.38, SD = 1.10), skill development (M = 4.37, SD = 0.94), fun (M = 4.36, SD = 0.86), affiliation (M = 3.77, SD = 1.04), team membership (M = 3.36, SD = 1.11), recognition (M = 3.28, SD = 1.09), and competition (M = 2.64, SD = 1.13).  Parents of competitive gymnasts rated higher than other parents, statistically, the two factors competition (M = 3.53 vs. M = 3.28) and team membership (M=3.06 vs. M=2.46), p < .05.

Parents’ Motivations for Enrolling Children in a Private Gymnastic Program

The importance of physical activity for children is well documented. A physically active lifestyle is important because physical activity and fitness have been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure among adolescents (Boreham, Twisk, Savage, Cran, & Strain, 1997) and favorable cholesterol profiles (Schmidt, Stenzel, & Walkulski, 1997). For a majority of children, physical activity comes through participation in organized sport programs outside of school (Sallis, 1994). When youth are asked what motivates them to participate in organized sport programs, responses typically include skill development, affiliation, fitness, fun, competition, excitement or challenge, and release of energy (McCullagh, Matzkanin, Shaw, & Maldonado, 1993).

Parents have been shown to be powerful influences on their children’s physical activity patterns (Stucky-Ropp & DiLorenzo, 1993). The role of parents in their children’s physical activity occurs via direct and indirect support (Dempsey, Kimiecik, & Horn,1993). Direct support of children’s physical activity includes registering children for organized sport programs and paying the participation fees (Atsalakis & Sleap, 1996). Indirect support of chidren’s physical activity includes transportation of children to places where they can be active (Hoefer, McKenzie, Sallis, Marshall, & Conway, 2001). Parents who demonstrate a positive attitude toward registering children for sport programs and who perceive registration procedures to be easily accomplished are more apt to enroll their children for organized physical activities (Atsalakis & Sleap, 1996).

Dempsey and colleagues (1993) examined how parents’ beliefs about children’s physical activity influenced the activity patterns of their children. The researchers concluded it is possible that parents’ belief systems and support are the primary influences on their children’s physical activity, acknowledging that the factors most important to parents in deciding to support children’s physical activity are unknown. Accordingly, the purpose of the present study was to describe parental rationales for support of children’s participation in a private gymnastic program; the study is based on the work of McCullagh and colleagues (1993).

]Method[

The target population for the present study was parents of children participating in a private gymnastic club. Club records identified 432 registered participants who were either on competitive teams or were recreational gymnasts. The study employed a 58-item survey based on the work of McCullagh et al. (1993), who constructed the instrument using data from recreational soccer players. The questionnaire requested demographic information including age of parent, educational background of parent, and age and gender of child. It also asked about  the child’s current participation in the gymnastic program: level (competitive or recreational), length of participation, and number of days per week currently attending club programs. Parents also rated the importance of the factors that McCullagh and colleagues (1993) identified in describing parents’ rationales for support of children’s involvement in organized physical activity. To rate the factors’ importance, the parents used a 5-point Likert scale. Survey items are presented in Table 1.

During a two-week period all parents who entered the gymnastic facility to deliver or retrieve their children were approached and asked to complete the questionnaire. Children were asked to take a copy of the questionnaire to those parents who did not come into the facility during the two weeks of data collection. (Parents completing a questionnaire at the gym were asked not to complete a duplicate survey should a child bring one home.) Parents with more than one child enrolled in the gymnastic program were asked to complete one questionnaire per child. Descriptive statistics were utilized to report the parents’ responses to questionnaire items. Analysis of variance was used to identify differences between the responses of parents of recreational gymnasts and those of parents of competitive gymnasts.

]Results[

Of the 250 surveys that were distributed, 156 (62.4%) were retrieved. Of 156 parents completing surveys, 132 were female (85%) and 24 were male (15%). The respondents were generally middle-aged (M = 36, SD = 6.6 years) and well educated. The children about whom the surveyed parents reported ranged from 2 to 18 years of age (M = 7.5, SD = 3.2). There were 109 recreational (70%) and 47 competitive (28.8%) gymnasts.

Descriptive statistics addressing parents’ rationales for supporting children’s participation in the gymnastic club are presented in Table 1. The 10 top-ranked items were related to fun, skill, or exercise. All items pertaining to gymnastics’ competitive aspects were ranked in the bottom 10. Table 2 shows the descriptive statistics for individual items in each category and the rank order of reasons parents supported a child’s participation in the gymnastic program. The reasons were ranked identically by the parents of the competitive gymnasts and the parents of the recreational gymnasts. Parents of competitive gymnasts rated team membership as a statistically more important (p < .05) factor than did parents of recreational gymnasts, F = 4.1, p = .04, M = 3 .53, SD = 1.22 versus M = 3.28, SD = 1.08. Parents of competitive gymnasts also rated competition as a statistically more important (p < .05) factor than did parents of recreational gymnasts, F = 16.4, p = .001, M = 3.06, SD = 1.06 versus M = 2.46, SD = 1.18.

]Discussion and Conclusion[

Skill development, exercise, and fun were the three top-rated reasons reported by parents for supporting a child’s involvement in gymnastics. The gymnasts’ parents clearly were interested in providing support for sport activities that their children regarded as fun and that have potential to produce physical fitness and skill. Competition was consistently ranked as one of the least important factors, by parents of competitive and recreational gymnasts alike. These findings are consistent with studies that examined reasons youth participate in other team sport activities (McCullagh et al., 1993; Passer, 1982). Differences between scores for parents of competitive gymnasts and those for parents of recreational gymnasts were found in two instances only, that of the team construct and that of the competitive construct; because the two constructs relate directly to competition, the differences in the scores are not unexpected. Despite the differences, each parent group rated team membership and competition relatively low.

The study results are important to those who provide youth sport programs. As Passer (1982) noted, such information can be useful in efforts to structure an athletic environment that provides participants with a maximally rewarding experience. Fitness, skill development, and fun are what parents expect a child to gain from participation in organized sport programs. Coaches can use this information to attract and keep participants.

Table 1 Means, Standard Deviations, and Rank of Motivational Factors Associated with Parents’ Support of Children’s Participation in Organized Gymnastics


Factor
Mean
Standard Deviation
Rank

To have a good time
4.75 0.68 1
To have fun
4.69 0.70 2
To get exercise
4.62 0.77 3
To improve skills
4.61 0.73 4
To learn new skills
4.60 0.73 5
To feel good when s/he does well
4.51 0.83 6
To do something s/he is good at
4.37 1.17 7
Help to be healthy
4.36 0.94 8
To be physically fit
4.32 0.98 9
To feel important
4.28 4.49 10
Motor development
4.28 0.96 10
To help learn discipline
4.24 0.95 12
To stay in shape
4.22 1.03 13
The coaches
4.15 1.02 14
The excitement
4.07 1.07 15
The team spirit
4.04 1.01 16
The challenge
3.98 1.00 17
The action
3.93 1.10 18
To meet new friends
3.84 1.04 19
To become better at sports
3.83 1.13 20
To get interested in sports
3.74 1.17 21
To be with friends
3.67 1.03 22
Physical therapy
3.62 1.33 23
To reduce risk for disease
3.61 1.17 24
Being on a team
3.27 1.19 26
To gain recognition
3.03 1.17 27
To help control weight
2.79 1.48 28
To compete
2.62 1.10 29
To compete against others
2.52 1.13 30
Awards
2.5 1.15 31
To test ability against others
2.48 1.15 32
To help work out anger
2.39 1.28 33
Medical advice
2.39 1.34 33
To earn college scholarship
2.28 1.32 35
To win against others
1.94 1.05 36
The uniforms
1.91 1.13 37

Table 2 Means, Standard Deviations, and Rank of Motivational-Factor Categories


Category Items
Mean
Standard Deviation
Rank

FitnessTo get exercise
To stay in shape
To be physically fit
Help to be healthy
4.38 0.94 1
Skill/masteryTo improve skills
To feel good when s/he does well
To learn new skills
To do something s/he is good at
Motor development
To become better at sports
4.37 0.89 2
Fun/excitementTo have a good time
To have fun
The action
The excitement
4.36 0.86 3
AffiliationTo be with friends
To meet new friends
3.77 1.04 4
TeamBeing on a team
The coaches
The team spirit
The uniforms
The equipment
3.36 1.11 5
RecognitionTo feel important
To gain recognition
Awards
3.28 1.09 6
MedicalPhysical therapy
To reduce disease risk
To help control weight
Medical advice
3.10 1.10 7
CompetitionTo compete
The challenge
To win against others
To earn college scholarship
To compete against others
To test ability against others
2.64 1.13 8

]References[

Boreham, C. A., Twisk, J., Savage, M. J., Cran, G. W., & Strain, J. J. (1997). Physical activity, sports participation, and risk factors in adolescents. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29, 788–793.

Dempsey, J. M., Kimiecik, J. C., & Horn, T. S. (1993). Parental influence on children’s moderate to vigorous physical activity participation: An Expectancy-value approach. Pediatric Exercise Science, 5, 151–167.

Hoefer, W. R., McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Marshall, S. J., & Conway, T. L. (2001). Parental provision of transportation for adolescent physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 21, 48–51.

McCullagh, P., Matzkanin, K. T., Shaw, S. D., & Maldonado, M. (1993). Motivation for participation in physical activity: A comparison of parent-child perceived competencies and participation motives. Pediatric Exercise Science, 5, 224–233.

Passer, M. W. (1982). Children in sport: Participation motives and psychological stress. Quest, 33, 231–244.

Sallis, J. F. (1994). Determinants of physical activity behavior in children. In R. R. Pate & R. C. Hohn (Eds.), Health and Fitness Through Physical Education (pp.31–43). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Schmidt, G. J., Stensel, D. J., & Walkuski, J. J. (1997). Blood pressure, lipids, lipoproteins, body fat and physical activity of Singapore children. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 33, 484–490.

Stucky-Ropp, R. C., & DiLorenzo, T. M. (1993). Determinants of exercise in children. Preventive Medicine, 22, 880–889.

Author Note

Jenny Wald, M.A.