Does Parent Exercise Participation Impact Adolescent Sports Performance?

Father with son on his shoulders
June 7th, 2019 0 Comments

Hunter Bennett

Keeping your kids active across the entirety of their childhood is integral to not only their normal growth and development but also to the maintenance of their physical and mental health.

And sport is arguably one of the best ways to manage this.

But did you know that your exercise habits (as a parent) could also impact the sport performance of your kids?

Do parental exercise levels impact adolescent sport participation?

There is a pretty significant body of research clearly demonstrating that the children of parents who exercise regularly are much more likely to participate in sport than those who have parents who don’t (Cleland, 2005).

To put it simply, parents who exercise often essentially act as good role models. They make exercise and physical activity a completely normal part of life – something that their children then feel the need to emulate.

Mother vs Father Impact On Children Participation

Interestingly, the exercise levels of the specific parent may actually impact the sport participation of your kids – which is certainly something that needs addressing (Sukys, 2014; Yao, 2015).

Research has shown that the good exercise habits of the father are much more likely to result in the regular sports participation of their sons, whereas the exercise levels of the mother have much less of an impact.

Moreover, this effect becomes more pronounced as your kids become older.Father teaching daughter to play tennis

So, for example, if you have a teenage son who is entering the end of his adolescent years (15 – 18 years), then it might be in your best interest to make sure dad is keeping up good exercise habits to ensure he also maintains his sports participation.

Alternatively, the exercise habits of both the mother and father accurately predict the sport participation of daughters.

It is important to note that while this may suggest that the fathers exercise habits are more important, I would disagree. In fact, I would argue that it is paramount that both the mother and father demonstrate good exercise habits throughout all of childhood, thus ensuring that your kids will develop good exercise habits of their own.

This early development is likely to contribute to an increase in their sport participation irrespective of their gender, will set your kids up for a lifetime of success.

So in short – don’t skimp on the exercise!

Related Article: Epigenetic Inheritance: Your Children Could Inherit Your HIIT

Does the age of your child make a difference?

As I have already alluded to in the above section, the age of your kids also plays a very important role (Sukys, 2014).

Research has shown that the exercise habits of parents only have a small impact on the sport participation of their kids during the ages of 12-13 years. This is because during this time, participation in sports is often considered one of the most attractive forms of leisure.

Throughout early adolescence, they therefore try and play as many different sports as they can for the pure fun of it. As a result, during this time, your exercise habits are slightly less important.

However, as they transition to 14-16 years of age, things change.

During this time, they begin to transition towards playing those sports that they are good at. While they do still play for enjoyment purposes, there is also a desire for competition and victory. It is during this time that parental exercise habits start to really increase the likelihood of kid’s sport participation.

Finally, as children transition to 16-18 years of age, parental exercise habits start to have the biggest impact.

In short, the kids of those parents (particularly fathers for boys) who exercise regularly will undoubtedly play more sport than the kids of those who do not.

Does your genetics as a parent affect your kids’ sports performance?

Do children inherit parents’ athleticism?

As a parent, you may have been an excellent high school athlete. You may have even played at college, and been damn good too.

Hell, you might have even made it like a pro.

But does that mean your kids will too?

Well, maybe…

There are certainly a couple of specific genes that have been shown to have a positive impact on athletic performance. With this in mind, if you have those genes, then it is highly likely that your kids will too (Yan, 2016).

As a result, your genetics certainly have the capacity to improve the sport performance of your kids.

But they won’t do it all.

Your kids still have to have the desire to compete. They still have to be willing to train hard, and they need to enjoy the sport at an individual level. They have to be nurtured appropriately to maximize their potential.

So yes, your genes may indeed increase the likelihood of your kids becoming successful in sport – but they aren’t the only important factor.

How do family exercise habits impact your children?

How do family exercise habits affect children?

I have already mentioned that your exercise habits can impact the likelihood of your child participating in sport – but can they impact anything else.

First and foremost, if you are more active as a family, then your kids are going to be much more active as a result. This also means that your children are going to be both fitter and healthier than if you didn’t exercise (Cleland, 2005; Zecevic, 2010).

With this in mind, we are talking about a reduced risk of becoming overweight and obese, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and even a reduced risk of suffering from depression and anxiety.

Which is all very important stuff!

Secondly, I want to talk about how family exercise habits affect children in adulthood.

See, if your kid is more active as a child, they are going to be more active as an adult. This means that they are going to live longer and healthier than those individuals who do not perform any exercise at all.

To put it simply, your exercise habits as a family could very well set up your kids for an entire lifetime of health success.

Do competitive parents make competitive kids?

As parents, it is very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind that is competitive children’s sport. You want your kids to succeed in everything that they do – and obviously, sport is no different.

But what if your actions could actually be harming your kids?

If you are a competitive parent, then it is likely that you are going to be focused on winning. This goal orientated thinking can lead your child to become too focused on the outcome on the match, rather than the process of getting better as an individual.

Which can increase their own competitiveness significantly (Lavoi, 2008).

But that’s not all…

See, you can also have healthy parental influence in sports, and unhealthy parental influence in sports.

Healthy vs unhealthy parental influence in sports

As a parent, you can exhibit healthy parental influences on your child through your own interactions with their sport.

If you focus on your child’s development and progress within the sport, rather than the outcome of the match, then your child is more likely to demonstrate good sportsmanship. Additionally, if you have a high level of involvement with your kid’s sport, but do not place pressure on them to win, then this is also going to help them develop positive sport behaviors.

But you can also have the opposite effect as well.

If you are too focused on the outcome of the match and place too much pressure on your kids to perform and to win, then they are more likely to develop poor sporting behaviors. This means that they are going to be focused solely on winning, are going to be over competitive, and will be excessively selfish both on and off the court.

So how you choose to act can have a huge impact on your kids in a sporting environment.

Parental influence and burnout in children sports

Sports burnout is the physical or emotional exhaustion that comes with long-term stress associated with sports performance. Burnout can lead to mental health issues, declines in motivation, illness, fatigue, and eventually, your child abandoning all sport (Gomes, 2017).

In this manner, sports burnout has the potential to ruin your child’s relationship with a physical activity completely.

Now, it is thought that burnout is derived from the combination and accumulation of both physical and emotional stress (Merkel, 2013).

This means that those parents who place too much value in their child’s sports success can increase stress and anxiety in their kids.

As a result, parents can set their child up for burnout by setting unrealistic expectations for performance and winning. They do this by forcing a young athlete to participate in sports beyond their readiness, and by putting too much emphasis on winning.

If at any point in time you think that you might be one of those overbearing parents in youth sports, take a step back and think about the damage you could be doing.

Related Article: Your Role as a Parent in Your Child’s Exercise Routine

Best tips for parents to prevent burnout in children

Importantly, I also wanted to outline how to prevent burnout in youth sports.

While there certainly isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, there are certainly some steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t happen to your kids:

  • Do not specialize too early: Children who specialize too early are at a much greater risk of burnout. Additionally, they are also less likely to be successful athletes in adulthood. So instead, encourage your kids to play several different sports across the year.
  • Keep it process orientated: As a parent, you want your kids to succeed. However, it is in your best interest to measure their success by the progress they make internally. Encourage their growth as a good sportsman, and the development of their physical and technical skills. Remember, winning isn’t everything.
  • Ensure they are recovering adequality: Poor recovery can result in illness, injury, and exhaustion. So, make sure your kids are eating enough to meet their training needs, and don’t overtrain!
  • Do not pressure your child to ‘make it’: Lastly, make sure that your child does feel pressure to win. Reinforce the fact that they are playing because they enjoy it, not because it will get them a scholarship or financial security.

If you can manage to implement these four tips, then you will be going a very long way to reducing your kids’ risk of burnout!

Take Home Message

Your exercise habits as a parent can have a huge impact on your kids’ likelihood of participating in sport. This is particularly important as they enter their adolescent years.

So, make sure you keep active and educate your children on the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. Set them up for a lifetime of health and wellbeing in the process! 


Cleland, Verity, et al. “Parental exercise is associated with Australian children’s extracurricular sports participation and cardiorespiratory fitness: A cross-sectional study.”. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2.1 (2005): 3.

Sukys, Saulius, et al. “Do parents’ exercise habits predict 13–18-year-old adolescents’ involvement in sport?.”. Journal of sports science & medicine 13.3 (2014): 522.

Yao, Christopher A., and Ryan E. Rhodes. “Parental correlates in child and adolescent physical activity: a meta-analysis.” International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 12.1 (2015): 10.

Yan, Xu, et al. “Nature versus nurture in determining athletic ability.” Genetics and sports. Vol. 61. Karger Publishers, 2016. 15-28.

Zecevic, Cheryl A., et al. “Parental influence on young children’s physical activity.” International journal of pediatrics 2010 (2010).

Lavoi, Nicole M., and Megan Babkes Stellino. “The relation between perceived parent-created sport climate and competitive male youth hockey players’ good and poor sport behaviors.”.  The Journal of Psychology 142.5 (2008): 471-496.

Gomes, A. Rui, S. Faria, and C. Vilela. “Anxiety and burnout in young athletes: The mediating role of cognitive appraisal.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 27.12 (2017): 2116-2126.

Merkel, Donna L. “Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes.” Open access journal of sports medicine 4 (2013): 151.

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