Do the athletic achievements of sons and daughters prove the moral worth of parents – especially fathers?

Fathersonoutside This is part of a week-long series on youth and sports: Part 1, Part 2

Is the athletic achievement of children linked to the moral worth of parents?

    That’s sociologist Jay Coakley’s argument, based on 35+ years of experience conducting research on sports in American society.

    “When I was successful in youth sports,” Coakley writes in Leisure Studies, “people told my father that he was lucky to have a child like me. When my children were successful, people would tell me that I must be proud of them and their achievements. Today, when sons and daughters excel in sports, their success is directly attributed to parents, especially fathers. In fact, fathers of age group champions are now interviewed and questioned by others seeking the secrets to their success in ‘creating’ athletic prodigies.”

    Given various changes in society, he says, the athletic achievements of kids are taken as evidence of the moral worth of parents. “The achievements of children in an activity as visible and highly publicized as sports come to symbolize proof of one’s moral worth as a parent. Talented child athletes, therefore, become valuable moral capital in neighbourhoods, communities, and the subcultures associated with high-performance youth sport programmes.”

    Fathers play a special role, he argues. He may not be involved in the day-to-day activities (cleaning uniforms, driving kids to practice and games) but he selects the coach and team, and pays the costs of training – sometimes as much as $40,000 a year. He’s a “good father” when his child succeeds.


    What do you think of Coakley’ thesis? Does it accord with your experiences? Do you have evidence to support or refute it?

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