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Teen Athletes' View of Success Affected by Parents, Peers

WebMD Health News

Dec. 15, 1999 (Minneapolis) -- Even if teen athletes view success as "how you played the game," they may feel that their parents define success as winning, according to Spanish researchers. These athletes also are more likely to have peers who support their point of view, the authors report in a recent article in the International Journal of Sports Psychology.

However, athletes who define success as winning are likely to feel that parents, coaches, and peers share their view, write lead researcher Amparo Escartí and colleagues. The possibility of these two attitudes are important for athletes, their parents, and their coaches to bear in mind, Darren Treasure, PhD, tells WebMD.

"This study is one of several sports psychology studies that looks at how athletes' [views of success] are formed," says Treasure. "How success is perceived affects people's performance in sports. Those who perceive success as winning do fine as long as they're winning but become discouraged in adverse settings. In those settings, athletes who perceive success as doing well continue to persist and do well." Treasure is an assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe.

In a survey of 90 male and 44 female high school track and tennis athletes, the Spanish investigators asked athletes how they defined success, how their parents and coaches defined it, and how their friends defined it. Friends were categorized into those who were involved in athletics and those who were not. The average age of respondents was 15.

Respondents were considered task-oriented if they viewed success in terms of whether they were performing as well as possible, mastering skills, and overcoming difficulties. Respondents were more ego-oriented if they defined success as performing in a manner superior to opponents and beating other people. They found that athletes who were more task-oriented felt that their criteria for success differed from those of their parents and coaches, whom they saw as more ego-oriented, but similar to those of their task-oriented peers. More ego-oriented respondents were more likely to feel that their success criteria were in agreement with those of both their peers and the adults in their lives.

"One of the interesting findings in this study was that there was little difference between boys and girls in task or ego orientation," Ian Tofler, MD, tells WebMD. Tofler, the co-chair of the sports psychiatry committee of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a consulting psychiatrist at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, tells WebMD that a certain amount of parental pride in children's athletic accomplishments is normal. However, parents should avoid becoming overly invested in their children's achievements, particularly in athletics, because this stance can actually harm children by encouraging them to perform despite injuries and fatigue.

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