Sport and Family Functioning: Strengthening Elite Sport Families


  • Michael Newhouse-Bailey Southern New Hampshire University
  • Marlene A. Dixon Troy University
  • Stacy Warner East Carolina University



family, family systems, parents, siblings, youth sport


Families play an important role in society, both in human sustenance and individual development.  Family systems theory views the family as a series of interconnected parts that when functioning properly, provide individual members with multiple benefits. Interaction with external systems, such as sport, school or church, can have positive and negative impacts on the family. It is unclear, however, what elements of sport relate to specific outcomes.  The purpose of this study is to better understand the relationship between elite youth sport participation and family units, and how these two spheres, individually and in combination, impact family functioning.  In-depth, purposeful interviews with seven “sport families” revealed that in addition to the depletion of resources (financial and time), elite sport engagement strongly detracts from the marital dyad and family unit receiving sufficient time and attention for proper functioning.  The results also offer insight into how the leagues can be better managed such that they positively contribute to family functioning.  Specifically, the results indicate that leagues can aid in strengthening family functioning through allowing families to have coaching input, and providing greater attention to scheduling, league expectations, and instrumental support.

Author Biographies

Marlene A. Dixon, Troy University

School of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management


Stacy Warner, East Carolina University

Department of Kinesiology

Associate Professor