Mary Fry and Candace M. Hogue
There is a large literature base within the field of sport psychology that provides tremendous direction to coaches and parents on how to structure youth sport so that young athletes develop sport skills and concurrently reap psychological benefits from their sport participation. Much of this research has employed Nicholls’ Achievement Goal Perspective Theory and a Caring Framework to (a) identity the processes children undergo as their cognitive development matures across the elementary years, allowing them to accurately judge their ability by adolescence, (b) formulate their personal definitions of success in sport (develop their goal orientations), and (c) note features of the team and overall sport climate created by coaches and parents. Of particular importance is athletes’ perceptions of the motivational climate prevailing on their teams. Athletes can perceive a caring and task-involving climate where coaches reward effort, improvement, and cooperation among teammates, make everyone feel they play an important role on the team, and treat mistakes as part of the learning process. In contrast, athletes can also perceive an ego-involving climate where the coach rewards ability and performance outcome, fosters rivalry among teammates, punishes mistakes, and gives most of the recognition to a few “stars.”
When athletes perceive a caring and task-involving climate on their teams, they are more likely to have fun, exert high effort, experience intrinsic motivation, have better interpersonal relationships with coaches and athletes, display better sportsperson-like values and behaviors, have better psychological well-being, and even perform better. In contrast, when athletes perceive an ego-involving climate on their teams they experience fewer adaptive and positive motivational outcomes and greater problematic outcomes (e.g., increased cortisol; greater endorsement of unsportsperson-like behaviors). Research has clearly identified the benefits of coaches and parents creating a caring and task-involving climate for young athletes, yet there are still many ego-involving climates in the youth sport world. A number of organizations are committed to helping coaches and parents transform youth sport culture into a positive arena where young people can develop their athletic skills and have a rewarding sport experience.