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Very Grown-Up Benefits From Youth Soccer

By Ann Killion

There are so many benefits to signing up for AYSO. Like teamwork. Bonding. Community-building. Improved communication. Oh, and the kids enjoy it as well.

A new study out of Purdue University illustrates how parents involved in youth sports end up experiencing many of the same social benefits that they are seeking for their children.

“Without question,” said Armen Taroian, who has been involved in coaching and administrating AYSO soccer in Salt Lake City for 14 years. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”

AYSO parents spend countless hours interacting on the sidelines with other parents. Volunteering their time. Spending time on the field and in their cars with their children. Organizing and coordinating logistics, carpools and calendars.

“We often look to sports as a socializing mechanism for young athletes,” said Travis Dorsch, a doctoral student in health and kinesiology, who led the study for his master’s thesis. “But there was a dearth of research on the parent side.”

Dorsch and his colleagues, Alan Smith and Meghan McDonough, aimed to fill that void. They studied parents in Lafayette, Ind., and came away with evidence that parents had as many behavioral changes stemming from their involvement in team sports as their children. Their findings were published in the August issue of Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Parents’ benefit from AYSO

But AYSO parents didn’t necessarily need a university study to understand the benefits of being involved in their children’s sports.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Kris Graff, an AYSO Regional Commissioner in St. George, Utah. “The first year my oldest son played, all the mothers would sit on the hill and chat and get to know each other.”

The study found that when parents signed up their children for sports they became more active, volunteering their time. Many–like Graff–learned about sports for the first time in their lives.

“I’m definitely more aware of what goes on in soccer and have learned more about the game,” Graff said.

Some parents actually took up a new sport themselves (Editor’s note: Many AYSO Regions now have adult soccer, too!). Parents made new friends on the sidelines, found new ways to communicate with their children and experienced improved communication with their spouse.

AYSO is a family activity

None of those outcomes surprises Sue Gould, a Regional Commissioner in the Chicago area. She and her husband, Mike, are involved with both of their children’s teams.

“It’s not just another activity where mom drops the kids off,” Gould said. “It’s truly a family activity.”

An activity that involves coordinating schedules, carving out time and bringing the family together.

“There seems to be a decreasing amount of time parents spend with their kids,” Gould added. “It’s a way for us to take back that time in a fun way.”

The Purdue study found that parents were thankful for the time spent with their children, time that they might not have had otherwise. One parent interviewed for the study said that sport “helped me spend a lot more time with my kids.” Another noted the joys of driving their children to sports events because “we learn more in a car than you do in every other day.”

Taroian agreed with those findings.

“It’s been excellent,” he said. “It is time I spend with my kids which I otherwise might not have had. It’s brought us closer. And I get a different view of them in a team setting than I do at home.”

Parents make new friends also!

Parents told the Purdue researchers that they had bonded with other parents. Gould, as a Regional Commissioner, often fields requests from parents who want to have their children play on teams with their existing friends. She encourages parents to encourage their children to meet new people through AYSO’s Balanced Teams philosophy. And she finds that the parents also benefit from expanding their social world.

“It definitely is a way to broaden your circle and meet people you normally wouldn’t be friends with,” Gould said. “You become more engaged with your community.”

Taroian and another soccer parent now have a business relationship that grew from their meeting on their children’s soccer teams. Graff met one mother through her son’s teams; now they are close friends, supporting each other through difficult pregnancies, bonding in ways that have nothing to do with soccer.

Parents are reacting differently on sidelines

Parents in the study reported a cognitive change in how they reacted on the sidelines. One parent reported that her son admonished her, by saying, “Mom, I could hear you, you were loud.”

As an administrator, Gould has occasionally had to talk to parents about negative sideline behavior and making sure parents adhere to the pledge of the AYSO Kids Zone, agreeing to support the goals of having fun, cheering and not making negative comments. She finds that parents usually respond well.

“They usually say they got caught up in the moment and shouldn’t have yelled,” she said. “Parents understand the expectations.”

Not every outcome of the Purdue study was positive. Some parents interviewed discussed concerns about putting too much pressure on their young children, about too many family sacrifices, about feeling guilty that they were relieved when a season-ending loss gave them their lives back.

It’s important for kids to see parents give back

But most of the results were affirmative.

“We weren’t seeking positive outcomes,” said Dorsch. “We were seeking a broad picture. But we did see a lot of great socialization outcomes.”

So do the parents involved in AYSO soccer.

Gould believes it is important that her children see their parents giving back to the community, by volunteering their time.

“It sets a good example,” she said.

Graff thinks it’s positive that her boys know that their mother and father are out their supporting them, “rather than just dropping them off.”

Taroian sums up his experience as an AYSO parent.

“It has been,” he said, “extremely rewarding.”

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