Perceptions of elite female athletes regarding success attributions and the role of parental influence on talent development

Date of Completion

January 2001


Education, Educational Psychology




While the role of parents and family is often cited in achievement literature, limited research exists concerning parental influence in the area of sport achievement. No studies address the self-perceptions of elite female athletes with regard to the importance of various causes for their success, including the role of parents. Building on previous research in the areas of sport attribution and parental influence in talent development, this cross-sectional study explored what several generations of elite female athletes believed to be important for the realization of their talent. ^ A self-administered mail questionnaire, the Female U.S. Olympian Survey, was completed by a sample of 394 Olympians as the primary method for gathering data on (a) demographics, (b) beliefs concerning origins of success, and (c) perceptions of parental encouragement and influence. Follow-up qualitative interviews were conducted by phone with a stratified purposeful sample of 40 athletes. The Olympians ranged in age from 19 to 98; almost two-thirds were in their thirties and forties at the time of the survey. Twelve team sports and over 27 individual sports were represented. While 35% of the athletes began their sport before the age of 10, 27% were age 16 or older. ^ Parental support scores showed that an impressive number of athletes (40%) gave their parents the maximum score for both encouragement and positive influence. Many parents provided important opportunities for their children to find sport activities they enjoyed and in which they performed well; but that specific parental role appeared to be most influential prior to the age of 9. In addition, the athletes who began their sport at a younger age rated the influence of their parents more positively. However, when considering a number of factors contributing to their success, the athletes ranked environmental reasons (including parental encouragement) among the least important. It appears that, whatever the form of support provided by parents (encouragement, financial support, location, or supervision), the athletes still rated their own personal characteristics and qualities, especially perseverance and natural abilities, as more crucial to their success at competitive levels than the encouragement and supervision of their parents. ^