READING GUIDE TO: Kremer-Sadlik T .and Kim, J (2007) ‘Lessons from sports: children’s socialization to values through family interaction during sports activities’, in Discourse and Society, 18 (1): 35-52

Middle class kids do a lot of organized sport in the USA.  Such activity has cultural implications, including seeing sport as a preferred alternative to letting children organise themselves in their spare time.  There is also a growing awareness of the problem of obesity, and that ‘participation in structure and extracurricular programs in adolescence promotes academic achievements and social adjustment’ (36).  Parents believe in the value of sports activities, especially ‘teamwork, fair play, sportsmanship, discipline, commitments, responsibility, self esteem and self confidence’ (36).  Parents believe that sport is a good way to ‘incorporate life lessons’ (36).

This study looked at the ways in which children and parents interacted around sports activities, using ethnographic video and examining the idea of language socialization—‘through language acquisition and language use children are socialised to socio cultural knowledge norms and values…  In talk and interaction, especially with family members (36).  This might go on in talk around the dinner table, or talking about work.

Children actively engage in formally organised sport, and this is valued.  Such sports improves personal traits and help kids get self confidence.  However, parents regularly comment on sporting activities, and take the chance to introduce moralistic standpoints and attitudes.  One extract has a parent requiring a boy to manage pain, offering a mild response to an injury, and avoiding ‘excessive concern and emotions’ which are demeaning (39) [hegemonic masculinity?].  Parents also discuss results, of the team and of individuals, sometimes by making really positive assessments, offering a ‘postgame pep talk’ stressing the need to persevere and improve (40).

Parents and children also engage in a good deal of informal play.  Here, family members themselves decide rules and justify their decisions.  Thus one example has a father reminding kids not to get too carried away or to whine, and directing behaviour to more legitimate means to compete, insisting on fair play, sticking to the rules, and so on.  The father in this example wants to encourage a particular child, but to get her to compete within the rules and within his values.  Sportsmanship and its value is also discussed [detailed analysis of transcripts intersperse this account], for example in moderating celebratory behaviour, and discussing acceptable alternatives.  Lessons are offered in the course of these discussions, examples given, questions asked, and expectations illustrated [pretty much as in good classroom pedagogy].  Overall, the researchers witnessed ‘lengthy collaborative interaction with their children to explain, illustrate, and instil in them values that they deem important’ (45).

However, there is also passive sports participation—'sports - centred interaction not involving actual play…  watching televised sport and talking about sports events' (45).  Families often watch the televised games, and discuss them.  Far from being unhelpful, 'these active engagements can lead to moral lessons'(45).  The example shows the family discussing loyalty and allegiance, being a good participant and being a moral member of society—raucous support for a team leads to discussion [does look a bit heavy handed and teachery].  Different kinds of reasons for being loyal were explored, sentimental and rational, according to gender, so there was some slight initial disagreement.  Reported events, events of the past, also lead to discussions and stories.  The stories make moral points, such as the need to take adversity with humour.  Again, there are some family conflicts here about how to interpret the events [and a possible suspicion that kids realise the heavy handed pedagogical motivation and want to stop it going too far].  Some detail ensues about how children's rival arguments are managed, as subjective, mistaken, inappropriate,  not shared, and so on.

So overall, parents have an important role in socialisation as well as sports personnel, and informal settings are as important as formal ones in socialising kids.  There are typical patterns of involvement, 'moralising lessons…  Parents are not only interested in modifying the child's behaviour or attitude, but also in importing moral stances and knowledge about how one should behave and feel' (50).  This can be done through questioning, challenge, interaction and discussion rather than simple reprimand.  Parents do this because they see the need to raise 'successful, healthy adults', and sports has a valuable role 'as a socialising tool' (50).

[Quite a few implications here.  It's a very uncritical piece, and could be seen as an undesirable extension of Foucault - type regulation.  There are some policy implications too.  If we want to use sport as some sort of social capital raising activity, maybe we should focus on parental conversations about it, instead of relying on physical participation?  Televised and past events seem to be as important as real life actual ones, so maybe we should get kids watching televised sport as well?]

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