Parent-child communication in sport: Bridging the gap between theory and research

  • Marshall Xavier Grimm Utah State University
  • Elizabeth Dorrance Hall Utah State University
  • Charles Ryan Dunn Weber State University
  • Travis Edward Dorsch Utah State University
Keywords: Parent-Child Communication, Youth Sport, Theory


Parent-child communication is integral to the acquisition of positive developmental outcomes from sport. This position paper offers useful interdisciplinary frameworks and theories for future researchers as they investigate questions pertaining to parentchild communication in organized youth sport. We propose such work is enhanced when grounded in family, human development, and interpersonal communication theory and literature. Specifically, theoretical frameworks from these areas assist researchers in determining salient research questions, choosing appropriate methodologies, and most importantly in the interpretation of findings. As researchers attempt to further understand parental influence in sport, the role of specific family processes like communication will shed light on the potential mechanisms that drive youth’s developmental outcomes. This knowledge will likely lead to better outcomes for youth participating in sport, and better relationships among family members in and out of the sport context. By gaining greater understanding of this phenomenon, researchers will have a more complete set of tools to educate parents, administrators, and coaches in an evidence-based way.

Author Biographies

Marshall Xavier Grimm, Utah State University

Graduate Student 

Department of Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Utah State University

Assistant Professor 

Department of Language, Philosophy, and Communication

Charles Ryan Dunn, Weber State University


Department of Child and Famiy Studies

Travis Edward Dorsch, Utah State University

Assitant Professor 

Department of Family, Consumer, and Human Development


Becvar, D. S., & Becvar, R. J. (2006). Family therapy: A systemic integration (6th ed). Boston, MA: Pearson Higher Ed.

Blazo, J. A., Czech, D., Carson, S., & Dees, W. (2014). A qualitative investigation of the sibling sport achievement experience. Sport Psychologist, 28, 36-47. doi:10.1123/tsp.2012-0089

Bloom, L. C., & Drane, D. (2008). Parents' sideline comments: exploring the reality of a growing issue. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 10.

Bowker, A., Boekhoven, B., Nolan, A., Bauhaus, S., Glover, P., Powell, T., & Taylor, S. (2009). Naturalistic observations of spectator behavior at youth hockey games. The Sport Psychologist, 23, 301-316. doi:10.1123/tsp.23.3.301

Brodie, G. D., & MacGeorge E. L. (2015). Supportive communication theories: Dual-process theory of supportive message outcomes and advice response theory. In D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt (Eds.), Engaging theories in interpersonal communication (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Broderick, C. B. (1993). Understanding family process: Basics of family systems theory. Thousand Oak, CA: Sage.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Ceci, S. J. (1994). Nature-nurture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: A bioecological model. Psychological Review, 101, 568-586. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.101.4.568

Caughlin, J. P. (2010). A multiple goals theory of personal relationships: Conceptual integration and program overview. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 824-848.

Côté, J. (1999). The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 395-417. doi:10.1123/tsp.13.4.395

Dailey, R. M. (2006). Confirmation in parent–adolescent relationships and adolescent openness: Toward extending confirmation theory. Communication Monographs, 73, 434-458. doi:10.1080/03637750601055432

Dailey, R. M. (2010). Testing components of confirmation: How acceptance and challenge from mothers, fathers, and siblings are related to adolescent self-concept. Communication Monographs, 77, 592-617. doi:10.1080/03637751.2010.499366

Dorrance Hall, E., Ruth-McSwain, A., & Ferrara, M.H. (2016). Models of health: Exploring memorable messages received from parents about diet and exercise. Journal of Communication in Healthcare, 9, 247-255. doi:10.1080/17538068.2016.1187892

Dorsch, T. E., Smith, A. L., & McDonough, M. H. (2009). Parents' perceptions of child-to-parent socialization in organized youth sport. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31, 444-468. doi:10.1123/jsep.31.4.444

Dorsch, T. E., Smith, A. L., Wilson, S. R., & McDonough, M. H. (2015a). Parent goals and verbal sideline behavior in organized youth sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 4, 19-35. doi:10.1037/spy0000025

Dorsch, T. E., Smith, A. L., & McDonough, M. H. (2015b). Early socialization of parents through organized youth sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 4, 3–18. doi:10.1037/spy0000021

Ellis, K. (2002). Perceived parental confirmation: Development and validation of an instrument. Southern Journal of Communication, 67, 319-334.

Emerson, R. M. (1976). Social exchange theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 335-362.

Feng, B., & MacGeorge, E. L. (2010). The influences of message and source factors on advice outcomes. Communication Research, 37, 553-575. doi:10.1177/0093650210368258

Fraser-Thomas, J. L., Côté, J., & Deakin, J. (2005). Youth sport programs: An avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 10, 19-40. doi:10.1080/1740898042000334890

Gottman, J. M., Notarius, C., Gonso, J., & Markman, H. (1976). A couple’s guide to communication. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Hennessy, D. A., & Schwartz, S. (2007). Personal predictors of spectator aggression at little league baseball games. Violence and Victims, 22, 205-215. doi:10.1891/088667007780477384

Holt, N. L., Tamminen, K. A., Black, D. E., Sehn, Z. L., & Wall, M. P. (2008). Parental involvement in competitive youth sport settings. Psychology of sport and exercise, 9, 663-685. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2007.08.001

Jeffery-Tosoni, S., Fraser-Thomas, J., & Baker, J. (2015). Parent involvement in Canadian youth hockey: Experiences and perspectives of peewee players. Journal of Sport Behavior, 38, 3-25.

Keegan, R. J., Harwood, C. G., Spray, C. M., & Lavallee, D. E. (2009). A qualitative investigation exploring the motivational climate in early career sports participants: Coach, parent and peer influences on sport motivation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 361-372. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.12.003

Knight, C. J., Boden, C. M., & Holt, N. L. (2010). Junior tennis players’ preferences for parental behaviors. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 377-391. doi:10.1080/10413200.2010.495324

Knight, C. J., & Holt, N. L. (2014). Parenting in youth tennis: Understanding and enhancing children's experiences. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15, 155-164. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.10.010

Koerner, A. F., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (2002a). Toward a theory of family communication. Communication theory, 12, 70-91. doi:10.1093/ct/12.1.70

Koerner, A. F., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (2002b). Understanding family communication patterns and family functioning: The role of conversation orientation and conformity orientation. Communication Yearbook, 26, 37-69. doi:10.1207/s15567419cy2601_2

Koerner, A. F., & Schrodt, P. (2014). An introduction to the special issue on family communication patterns theory. Journal of Family Communication, 14, 1-15. doi:10.1080/15267431.2013.857328

LaVoi, N. M., & Stellino, M. B. (2008). The relation between perceived parent-created sport climate and competitive male youth hockey players' good and poor sport behaviors. The Journal of Psychology, 142, 471-496. doi: 10.3200/jrlp.142.5.471-496

MacGeorge, E. L., Guntzviller, L. M., Hanasono, L. K., & Feng, B. (2013). Testing advice response theory in interactions with friends. Communication Research, 43, 211–231. doi:10.1177/0093650213510938

Mehrabian, A., & Wiener, M. (1967). Decoding of inconsistent communications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 109-114. doi:10.1037/h0024532

National Council of Youth Sports. (2008). Report on trends and participation in organized youth sport. Stuart, FL: Author. Retrieved from http://www report.pdf Nicholls,

Omli, J., & LaVoi, N. M. (2006). Background anger in youth sport: A perfect storm. Journal of Sport Behavior, 32, 242-260.

Omli, J., LaVoi, N. M., & Wiese-Bjornstal, D. M. (2008). Towards an understanding of parent spectator behavior at youth sport events. The Journal of Youth Sports, 3, 30-33.

Pink, D. (Author). (2015, June 30). Why you should always skip your kids’ baseball games. PBS Newshour. Retrieved from

Ravitch, S. M., & Riggan, M. (2016). Reason & rigor: How conceptual frameworks guide research. Washington, DC: Sage Publications.

Rosa, E. M., & Tudge, J. (2013). Urie Bronfenbrenner's theory of human development: its evolution from ecology to bioecology. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5, 243-258. doi: 10.1111/jftr.12022

Dunn, C. R., Dorsch, T. E., King, M. Q., & Rothlisberger, K. J. (2016). The impact of family financial investment on perceived parent pressure and child enjoyment and commitment in organized youth sport. Family Relations, 65, 287-299. doi:10.1111/fare.12193

Sieburg, E. (1985). Family communication: An integrated systems approach. New York, NY: Gardner Press, Inc.

Stafford, L. (2008). Social exchange theories: Calculating the rewards and costs of personal relationships. In L. A. Baxter & D. O. Braithwaite (Eds.), Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: Multiple perspectives, (p. 377-389). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. doi:10.4135/9781483329529.n28

Trenholm, S. & Jensen, A. (2013). Interpersonal communication (7th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Van Swol, L. M. (2011). Forecasting another’s enjoyment versus giving the right answer: Trust, shared values, task effects, and confidence in improving the acceptance of advice. International Journal of Forecasting, 27, 103-120. doi:10.1016/j.ijforecast.2010.03.002

Warner, S., Dixon, M., & Leierer, S. (2015). Using youth sport to enhance parents' sense of community. Journal of Applied Sport Management, 7, 45-63.