The role of parents in early sport specialization : a grounded theory of soccer parents
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Sport specialization is defined as a year-round, highly structured commitment to training for and competing in a single sport. Children who begin the process of specialization at an early age are potentially susceptible to several undesirable outcomes, including an increased risk of orthopedic injury, psychological burnout, and limited social development. Despite these inherent risks, the practice of early sport specialization has become prevalent in the United States. This study uses a grounded theory methodology to examine the role of parents in early sport specialization practices. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twelve parents of adolescent soccer players, the study finds that parents are drawn to early sport specialization because of multiple perceived benefits for their children. The two most prominent of these benefits are positive socialization and the use of the sport as a lever for higher education. Parents act on limited information when making decisions regarding early sport specialization, relying on advice and information from coaches, soccer clubs, and other parents to make their decisions. In this manner, the parents themselves are socialized into the culture of early specialized sport, adopting the established values and beliefs of the practice, and furthering the advancement of the practice of early specialization in youth sport.