Dads and their Daughters — Connections through Sport

Mrs Chris Moore, Director of Sport (Acting)

There are some things that every Dad should know about his daughter — especially if she didn’t come with an instruction manual (de Winter, 2009).


Today’s girls are talented, ambitious and accomplished. They’re wise beyond their years. But they are burdened as well—pressured to grow up too fast, before they’ve had a chance to explore who they are or who they wish to be. We would do well to better understand how the female brain operates and how this links with the emotional and social lives and cultural contexts in which girls grow up. Girls need more than academic success to sustain resilience. Not all life is about success, and learning to lose, and to be a sporting loser, can be as important a lesson as learning to win and to be a champion. The development of character, the guiding principles of how young people will live their lives also can occur through sport — for example: courage, learning to persist in the face of adversity is just one of the skills that can be developed and enhanced through sport.

Being able to handle criticism positively and effect change that leads to personal growth is another of the things that can come from being involved in sport. The psychological and social outcomes of sport and its great support potential are obvious. Harnessing this potential is a major task for all those who feel responsible for supporting the development of young people —as one sport psychologist from Boston has said: ‘Society has gone too far to protect children from the knocks of life by never having anything go wrong or providing negative feedback. It’s part of the feel good movement that everything we do with our children has to be positive’ (Zaichkowsky, 2008).

Girls will have to learn to deal with negativity and toughness in the real world, so let’s help prepare them for it. Raising self-esteem needs to be balanced with being able to take criticism, to experience failure and learn that in competition there are winners and losers. Children can learn how to deal with failure and mistakes in a supported environment such as in a sporting team. Social and emotional skills such as perseverance and sociability (along with self-esteem) have been shown to influence social outcomes in a positive way. Coping with disappointment is one of the keys to developing resilience. Being a gracious winner or a good loser are life skills for which sport can prepare you. Practical experience in co-curricular activities enhances a sense of responsibility, capacity to work in a team and self-confidence (Gittins, 2015)

Our values are shaped by experiences as well as by significant others who influence our lives — our parents, our teachers, our coaches, our friends. Parents are important teachers and serve as role models for physical activity. Parental involvement is particularly relevant for girls because parent activity and encouragement have been shown to influence the activity patterns of girls to a greater extent than boys. Studies by sports psychologists Greendorfer and Lewko (1978) found that fathers tend to be the most critical behavioural influence for both boys and girls regarding sport matters and in particular becoming involved in sport. In her editorial in the Journal of Leisure Studies (2006), Tess Kay discussed the dramatic transformation of family life and parenting over the past two decades. We have seen an historically unprecedented shift from traditional family values and fathers (or heads of the household) to gender equity in family life and today’s standard of parenting under which mothers and fathers are held responsible for the whereabouts and actions of their children twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

There has been a huge shift in parenting in the past few decades and much attention has been given to the importance of the father’s role in raising his children.

The reality is that today’s father needs to be an involved and emotionally available co-parent. Leisure is clearly a major site for this to occur and in focussing on parental involvement in youth sport, a study by sports and leisure researcher Coakley (2005) demonstrated how this is a particularly prominent site for fathering. Coakley argued that, as fathers seek to become increasingly involved in their children’s lives, youth sports provide parenting contexts that privilege men and at the same time enable fathers to develop mature relationships with their sons and daughters and claim that they are sharing child-rearing responsibilities with their wives, former wives or partners. The prominence of sport as a dominant cultural context for fathering is highlighted by Shaw and Dawson’s (1998) findings in Leisure Sciences that being with and doing leisure activities with their children, and using these occasions to bond, communicate and instil values, is central to the generative notion of fathering. For many fathers, organised sport provides a setting in which they feel comfortable and competent as a parent.

Beginning secondary school coincides with the key changes in adolescent development, including biological and cognitive growth, social development, and renegotiations of family relationships, especially parent–adolescent relationships. The confluence of these developmental and contextual changes at early adolescence increases the risk that students may not reach their potential, and heightens the need to identify sources of support. Parents at this time must attempt to set boundaries and communicate expectations while promoting healthy independence. Parental influence often becomes more indirect. Parents’ beliefs about adolescents’ abilities, skills and potential, shape adolescents own beliefs, which influence performance. Research repeatedly demonstrates that paternal influence can and does affect many facets of a woman’s life, from her sense of self to the treatment she comes to expect from men and even her career and academic success. To become a successful and strong woman, a daughter requires the attention and wisdom, as well as protection of her father. A successful, strong father sees this as an opportunity as well as an obligation. Dr Bruce Robinson, author of Daughters and Their Dads (2008) and Fathering in the Fast Lane, says: ‘an involved father is not only a moral anchor for his daughter, but a role model of independence and competency who demonstrates the way to navigate the world outside the family’.

Daughters are exposed to a lot more potentially risky influences than was ever the case when fathers were young. In a society where girls are bombarded with negative, false and superficial media portrayal of women, a strong, present and protective father has never been more critical. To counteract the negative effects of this media onslaught, dads need to spend time with their daughters. Robinson (2008) believes that there are three main things that a daughter needs from her father: a sense of her own beauty, a sense of self-confidence and a sense of how she should be expected to be treated by a man. Men can also help change attitudes in the media — there are plenty of opportunities to go and see enthralling women’s sport and plenty of opportunities to report it. The failure to do so says something about us as a society, and it’s not a good thing. Women’s sport does matter and we should be working to see more positive stories about it in the media. Fathers could have an important role here!

A father needs to give his daughter time — neither quality or quantity time work by themselves — ‘quality moments happen on a platform of a quantity of time’ (Robinson, 2008). All girls can benefit from a good father figure. Shane Gould, former Olympic swimmer says: ‘Fathers, sports coaches, teachers, any father figure should seek to make her feel special and give them confidence and belief in themselves’. According to Shane, her father always set challenges that were achievable and he always made her believe she could do it. Affirmation is one of the many important things that fathers can give daughters, along with a sense of humour — both are confidence-building social skills. Some dads, like some football coaches, try to get their children to strive continually to attain higher goals by indicating that they are never satisfied with them. This, of course, has more chance of destroying confidence, than building it. Fathers need to give their daughters confidence that success is not out of reach. As Henry Ford said: ‘Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t — you’re right!’. Appropriate risk is an important part of life and if girls grow up without being told to ‘have a go’, they won’t.

In our busy modern lives, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to really connect with their daughters and this is particularly true for dads, but any father needs to realise that if he’s not taking time with his daughter, he’s probably missing just as much as she is.

So, enjoy being a Grammar Dad and being involved in Grammar Sport — the time will be over all too soon!


Coakley, J. (2005). The good father: Parental expectations in youth sports. Leisure Studies, 25 (2), 153–165.

De Winter, A. (2009). Top of the pops — parenting: Fathers and daughters. Wellbeing, 122.

Greendorfer, S. & Lewko, J. (1978). Role of family members in sport socialisation of children — A review. In.Landers, D. &.Christina, R. (Eds.), Psychology of motor behaviour and sport. Champaign, USA: Human Kinetics.

Harrington, M. A. (1983). Sport and leisure as contexts for fathering in Australian families. Leisure Studies, 25(2), 165–183.

Gittins, R. (2015). Balance of cognitive, social and emotional skills needed to succeed. The Age. Retrieved 18 March 2015 from

Gould, S. (2003). Tumble Turns. Sydney: Harper Sports.

Kay, T. (2006). Fathering through leisure. [Editorial]. Leisure Studies, 25 (2), 125–131.

OECD (2015). Skills for social progress: The power of social and emotional skills. OECD Publishing: Paris. Extract retrieved 20 March 2015 from

Robinson, B. (2008). Dads and their daughters. Perth: Macsis Publishing.

Shaw, S. M. & Dawson, D. J. (2001). Purposive leisure: examining parental discourses on family activities. Leisure Studies, 23(4), 217–231

Zaichkowsky, L. (2008). Winners and losers — The sports factor. [Radio interview].Transcript retrieved 1 April 2015 from