The outcomes we hope for in our coaching are the very same outcomes we hope for as a parent. Specifically, a young person who has the competence and confidence to go after what they want but the resilience and control to cope with the pressures they face along the way. Therefore, it makes sense to model how we coach off good parenting practice.

In 1966, Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, described three parenting styles – permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative – each shown to be associated with specific kinds of outcomes. Each parenting style was categorised based on two dimensions of human behaviour; demandingness and responsiveness.

Demandingness “refers to the claims parents make on children to become integrated into the family whole, by their maturity demands, supervision, disciplinary efforts, and willingness to confront the child who disobeys”. 1

Responsiveness, on the other hand, is “the extent to which parents intentionally foster individuality, self-regulation, and self-assertion by being attuned, supportive, and acquiescent to children’s special needs and demands”. 1

The specific tenets of Baumrind’s three parenting styles are:

  1. Permissive

Permissive parenting involves high levels of responsiveness and low levels of demandingness. It is characterised by a parent who responds to their child in a caring manner but doesn’t enforce rules or hold any expectations. A parent who adopts this type of parenting style is typically seen as a friend by their child rather than an authority figure.

  1. Authoritarian

Authoritarian parenting is the reverse of permissive. That is, high demandingness and low responsiveness. It is characterised by a parent who sets arduous rules and expectations for their child and enforces them firmly. However, seldom do parents who adopt this style style give their child a voice or provide rationale behind their decisions.

  1. Authoritative

Authoritative parenting is warm and responsive but comprises strict rules and high expectations. It is characterised by a parent who gives clear rationale for the decisions they make, while valuing their child’s independence. However, an authoritative parent also imposes consequences when a child betrays their trust.

Research has demonstrated specific child outcomes associated with each of Baumrind’s parenting styles. For instance, permissive parenting is more likely to result in impulsiveness, egocentric behaviour and less attuned social skills. Authoritarian parenting, in contrast, has been associated with lower academic performance, reduced self-esteem and delinquency. Alternatively, authoritative parenting, is more likely to raise a self-regulated, mature, resilient and optimistic child who perceive their parents as influential and loving.

What does this have to do with sport?

Parenting style affects motivation, which influences behaviour, and over time can play a significant role in determining a young person’s outcomes. An authoritative parent, for example, who enforces house rules and expectations while accounting for their child’s individual needs and desires, facilitates an environment for positive development. Crucially, a coach who is open to verbal give-and-take with their athletes, but at the same time expects hard work and dedication, can achieve the same.

In a study published last year, the relationship between Baumrind’s parenting styles (as adopted by coaches) and the self-determination of 194 university students was investigated. The participants, who all were involved in high school sport, were asked about their demographics, their high school coaches’ coaching style, and their personal levels of three basic psychological needs, which if met, contribute to self-determined motivation: autonomy  (feeling one has influence over what happens or a feeling of freedom, competence (feeling one has the skills necessary to be successful at a given endeavour), and relatedness (feeling connection with other people). 2

The results of the study showed that an authoritative coaching style was a significant predictor of athlete autonomy and competence, while an authoritarian coaching style was a negative predictor. Permissive parenting had no relationship to self-determination. To sum up, not only does parenting style affect child outcomes in general life, but when adopted by a sports coach, it can significantly affect motivation to play.