Parents have bigger influence on children’s enjoyment of sport than schools do, research suggests

15 August 2013

Children are more likely to enjoy sport in school if they are active outside of school, according to a new study from the Institute of Education (IOE), University of London.

The IOE research, based on data from more than 14,000 10-year-olds included in the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70), found that children who were active outside of school were more likely to feel they did well at school sport and enjoy it. The effect was similar for boys and girls, although boys were generally more active than girls in their spare time.

In contrast, the amount of curricular time devoted to sport and physical education did not affect how much children said they enjoyed sport, or their perceived level of ability.

The findings suggested that parental and family influences were the most influential factors in children’s participation in sport outside of school, while family social class and income levels were not found to affect children’s activity levels.

Since the London 2012 games, there has been an increasing policy focus on primary school sport, with the intention of making children more active and building  a legacy of lifelong participation in sport.

However, Will Parry, who conducted the research, warns that current government policy, which focuses on traditional sports, competition and performance, could have a negative effect on those children who are not supported by their parents to be active.

He said: “Competitive sporting environments in primary school may impact on children’s enjoyment by emphasising performance and encouraging peer comparisons of ability. This could reduce the participation of those who are already less likely to be active outside of school.”

Parry now intends to look at the long-lasting effect of physical activity in childhood by analysing data collected when the 1970 cohort study members were 16, 29 and 34.

Read the full paper

Experiences of physical activity at age 10 in the 1970 British Cohort Study’, by Will Parry, was published by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies on 15 August 2013.

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