The developmental origins of fear of failure in adolescent athletes: examining parental practices

Sam S. Sagar*, David Lavallee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: We investigated the developmental origins of fear of failure (FF) in adolescent athletes by examining how parental sport socialization practices in daily parent-child interaction contribute to the development of FF in the child-athlete.

Method: Three intact families of adolescent athletes (ages 13-14 years) participated in the study; three athletes and six parents. Each mother, father and athlete was interviewed separately three times over a 3-4 week period. Interviews with parents ranged between 90 and 200 min and with the athletes between 60 and 106 min. Social constructionist epistemology underpinned the study.

Results: Data analyses revealed three categories of parental sport socialization practices that can contribute to young athletes' FF: punitive behavior, controlling behavior, and high expectations for achievement. These practices appear to be grounded in the parents' belief that losing competitions will lead to aversive consequences for their child's sporting progression and career. Therefore, they employed these practices in an attempt to ensure their child's success in competitions.

Conclusions: Such parental socialization practices and negative responses to their child's failure can contribute to the child's FF development; as the child appraises these practices and responses to be aversive consequences of failure and, subsequently, fears failure. The present study represents the first endeavor to examine the developmental origins of FF in young athletes and its findings enhance conceptual understanding of FF in the youth sport context, contributing to theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-187
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010


  • Parents
  • Sport socialization
  • Expectations
  • Control
  • Love withdrawal
  • Punishment
  • Fear
  • Youth sport
  • Qualitative methodology


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