External Factors to Consider
Coaches, administrators, and directors noted several external factors that may moderate the effectiveness of parent involvement, policy implementation, or educational programming. The following eight external barrier themes were discussed as having the most impact on the parent involvement in the context of intercollegiate athletics:
The physical, geographic distance between player and parent seems to have a significant impact on the level of parent involvement. According to coaches, administrators, and parents, this factor impacts not only parents’ abilities to attend athletic contests, but also the level of in-person contact between parent and student-athlete. One head coach (men’s tennis), comparing international athletes to athletes from the United States noted this barrier:
American parents, because they are closer and they visit more, they will once in a while be calling and seeing what is going on. So those differences make the dynamic a little different.
It was a common emerging theme that the farther away an athlete’s parents physically are, the less prevalent communication was within the parent/child relationship.
A second external factor relates to the perceived generation gap that exists between some parents and their student-athletes. Despite this, key NCAA stakeholders noted that technology and social media have made the gap much narrower as parents can now readily keep up with their student-athletes. This constant access, while providing an opportunity for closeness, can also be to the detriment of the student-athlete. As a female head coach (women’s softball) expressed:
I think that with cell phones and technology they’re almost too involved – to a fault – because the kid is not able to grow up and experience some things.
Another external factor noted by key stakeholders across NCAA Divisions was the level of parent competitiveness. Specifically, coaches and administrators discussed how competitiveness between parents impacts their involvement styles. According to these individuals, this factor has been accentuated recently by the visibility of intercollegiate athletics and athletes in popular press. As note by a male administrator:
The stakes are higher and as the stakes become higher as you move up; the number of patrons that are watching, the roles that the intercollegiate program plays all affect it… I think the parents play into that, the higher the stress, the more the parents want to see their kid succeed and the more they probably will find themselves getting involved. Unfortunately, selfishly, some parents want to live through their kids. The kids can sense that and I feel that it happens more frequently at the Division I level than they would at the others.
Class in school.
According to key stakeholders, the student-athlete’s class in school has a big influence on parent involvement and the potential impact of parent educational programming. The consensus seemed to be among stakeholders that older student-athletes (i.e., juniors and seniors) seek less communication with their parents simply because they have made more progress toward adulthood. As discussed by a male head coach (track and field):
The interaction differs from when you’re recruiting and it also differs from how long they have been here. Someone who’s a freshman, I might communicate with the parent a lot more than someone who is a senior. For two reasons: they don’t need the information because the kid should learn how to do those things, and the older the student gets, the less they want the parent involved.
However, It is not just communication between parents and student-athletes that changes over time, but communication between parents and coaches as well. The reasons coaches gave for this in interviews ranged from parents “learning to let go” to “coaches just wanting to deal with athletes” as the child progresses on the team.
Coaches and administrators also discussed student-athlete gender as an external factor that may impact the parent involvement and/or effectiveness of parent education. As discussed by a female administrator:
For the most part, a general statement, but male athlete parents are less involved in the standpoint of communication with administration and coaches. They allow their student-athlete to really do more of the communication. Where female student-athlete parents are really more involved in sharing their opinions with administration and coaches and/or speaking for their student-athlete instead of having their kid talk for themselves.
Key NCAA stakeholders noted that parents of female student-athletes seem to be more vocal with coaches. Additionally, participants discussed ways in which student-athletes handle parents’ negative involvement. Specifically, these individuals noted that female athletes are more likely to internalize the negativity, whereas male athletes are more likely to externalize.
According to key NCAA stakeholders, all families have an established dynamic when the student-athlete arrives at college. This dynamic takes a while to evolve and adapt to the new setting of intercollegiate athletics, which often impacts the quality and quantity of parent involvement. As shared by a male head coach (women’s soccer):
I do believe that it’s probably a continuum of what has been going on in that student-athlete’s life coming through their high school ages, junior high school, and their high school ages probably for the most part. So I don’t see that dramatically changing … so I think the interaction and the tie that parents have with their student-athlete makes a big difference into the experiences that those student-athletes receive, positively and negatively.
Because no family dynamic is the same, stakeholders recognized that each student-athlete’s transition to college is experienced differently and that parent education must not be a one-size-fits-all recipe.
One external factor that coaches, administrators, and parents felt impacted parent involvement and student-athlete experiences is the sport culture. These stakeholders agreed that parent educational programming could be generalized to all intercollegiate sports, but also felt that specific aspects of the program would need to be tailored to specific sport needs. As a male head coach (men’s wrestling) stated:
I honestly believe that every sport is different. They have their own little tendencies. Not always, but (different sports) can be different, so I think you have to tailor (parent education) a little bit.
Parenting culture is another external factor that plays a role in parent involvement. Indeed, coaches, administrators, and parents all agreed that the current parenting culture in sport is that of a helicopter parent. A male head coach (men’s football) said, “It’s out of control,” when talking about the current sport parenting culture in intercollegiate athletics. It is a difficult change for both student-athletes and parents when an child begins their collegiate career. As one female head coach (women’s softball) summed it up: