How Nontraditional Family Structures affect youth sports participation

By Robyn Parets

Children from nontraditional family structures, including single-parent and divorced families, have lower odds of participating in organized sports than those from traditional families.

According to a February 2016 article on Public in Library Science

It’s not unusual for parents to spend weekends at sports fields, rinks, courts, pools and gyms. Sports participation, which instills lasting health benefits and self-esteem, is indeed a fact of life for many families.

But children from nontraditional family structures, including single-parent and divorced families, have lower odds of participating in organized sports than those from traditional families, according to a February 2016 article on PLOS ONE (Public in Library Science). The study also showed that children from families with lower income levels – often linked to nontraditional families – are less likely to participate in sports. The study, conducted by the Department of Public Health Sciences at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, analyzed a cross-section of Canadian youth and their parents.

“Co-parenting isn’t a ‘one and done’ negotiation. Parents and step-parents will be dealing with each other repeatedly for years.”

The study findings are consistent with existing theories about why children from divorced and single-family households may be less involved in sports. Experts discussed these issues with MVP Parent, along with possible solutions:

Challenging family dynamics.

Some typical scenarios include step-parents who don’t want to be involved in a child’s sports or divorced parents who can’t agree on how to approach their child’s activities. This issue is indeed tricky, said Brian Brunkow, a San Diego-based lawyer, author and youth football coach who speaks about student-athlete development. Parents and step-parents need to learn to communicate effectively and respectfully. “Co-parenting isn’t a ‘one and done’ negotiation. Parents and step-parents will be dealing with each other repeatedly for years,” said Brunkow.

Difficulty driving to sporting activities as a single parent

It’s no secret that single parents sometimes find themselves juggling work and kids without help from another adult. For this predicament, arranging rides with other parents is a great option. Yet, no one wants to continuously ask for rides, so a work-around is to refrain from using the word “help” and instead offer to carpool, said Ian Janssen, PhD, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University and coauthor of the PLOS study. If carpooling is too challenging for a single parent, perhaps he or she can supervise off-the-field tasks, suggests Brunkow, like collecting fees, ordering uniforms or organizing fundraisers. “This way everyone contributes and there’s no uncomfortable perception of handouts,” he said.

Financial hardship

While the costs involved in youth sports can pose a barrier for non-traditional families, parents may seek out financial help. Many programs and sports leagues waive fees for economic hardship, offer scholarships, or offer extended payment plans. Parents can also ask if game-day services – such as working concession stands or refereeing – can be substituted for fees, said Brunkow. Owners of pricey travel teams may be receptive to bartering fees for services i.e., public relations or accounting services for the team. With a little research, parents may also be able to find youth sports programs that cater to kids from blended families or that offer special pricing. Local YMCAs, for example, often offer sliding scale payment plans based on income levels and discounts for single-parent households.

Robyn Parets is a journalist and personal finance writer based in Boston. A former staff writer for Investor’s Business Daily and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids, a children’s yoga brand and online training course. You can follow her on Twitter @RobynParets or reach her via email at robynparets@gmail.com.

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