The Role of Sport in the Lives of Mothers of Young Children

  • Katherine E. Soule


Mothers, particularly those with young children, exist at the intersection of competing discourses. Normative constructions of mothering exert pressure for women to embody the ‘good mother’ by relinquishing individual interests in order to attend to child(ren)’s needs (Goodwin and Huppatz, The good mother: Contemporary motherhoods in Australia, 2010). Conversely, the sport and leisure literature—framed mostly from within the social psychological paradigm—positions children as a constraint, detailing ways in which children prevent mothers from participating. Examining individual’s experiences, almost to the exclusion of relational experiences, sport and leisure researchers argue that mothers need more opportunities that promote individuality and separation from familial lives (e.g. Miller and Brown, Leisure Sciences, 27, 405–420, 2005). Media and cultural norms have created an even wider divide between motherhood and sport participation. Engrained social messaging aligns pregnancy with the end of women’s participation in sport (Cosh and Crabb, Psychology of Women Section Review, 14(2), 41–49, 2012), which stems from framing sport as innately separate from familial relationships. More than 25 years ago, feminist scholars pointed to the need for new considerations that encapsulate mothers’ experiences (Wearing and Wearing, Leisure Studies, 7(2), 111–123, 1988). Nonetheless, scholarship has continued to reify traditional tenets that position children as a constraint. This chapter draws on a small body of scholarship that examined the complexities and interconnectedness present in mothers’ experiences of sport (Hodler and Lucas-Carr, Communication and Sport, 4(4), 1–18, 2015; Leberman and Palmer, Journal of Sport Management, 23, 305–334, 2009; Metz, Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies, 8(2), 248–275, 2008; Pedersen, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 36(3), 259–274, 2001), family-centered physical activity (Klisch and Soule, 2015), and relational leisure (Freeman et al., Leisure Sciences, 28, 203–221, 2006; Soule, Connected: A phenomenology of attachment parenting, 2013; Tirone and Shaw, Journal of Leisure Research, 29(2), 225–244, 1997) to argue that greater openness when examining mothers’ experiences and meaning-making allows us to more fully understand the role of sport (or not) in the lives of mothers.


  1. Arendell, T. (1999). Hegemonic motherhood: Deviancy discourses and employed mothers’ accounts of out-of-school time issues. Berkeley, CA: University of California. Retrieved from Scholar
  2. Bella, L. (1992). The christmas imperative: Leisure, family, and women’s work. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Bialeschki, M. D., & Michener, S. (1994). Re-entering leisure: Transition within the role of motherhood. Journal of Leisure Research, 26(1), 57–74.Google Scholar
  4. Butson, M. L., Borkoles, E., Hanlon, C., Morris, T., Romero, V., & Polman, R. (2012). Examining the role of parental self-regulation in family physical activity: A mixed-methods approach. Psychology and Health, 29(10), 1137–1155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chapman, A., & Saltmarsh, S. (2013). The politics of normative childhoods and non-normative parenting: A response to Cristyn Davies and Kerry Robinson. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 14(1), 60–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cosh, S., & Crabb, S. (2012). Motherhood in elite sport discourse. Psychology of Women Section Review, 14(2), 41–49.Google Scholar
  7. Craig, L., & Mullan, K. (2012). Shared parent-child leisure time in four countries. Leisure Studies, 31(2), 211–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Currie, J. (2004). Motherhood, stress and the exercise experience: Freedom or constraint? Leisure Studies, 23(3), 225–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Freeman, P. A., Palmer, A. A., & Baker, B. L. (2006). Perspective of leisure of LDS women who are stay-at-home mothers. Leisure Sciences, 28, 203–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Goodwin, S., & Huppatz, K. (2010). Chapter one: The good mother in theory and research. In S. Goodwin, & K. Huppatz (Eds.), The good mother: Contemporary motherhoods in Australia (pp. 1–24). Sydney: Sydeny University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Harrington, M. (2001). Gendered time: Leisure in family life. In J. J. Daly (Ed.), Minding the time in family experience: Emerging perspectives and key issues (Vol. 3, pp. 343–382). Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hodler, M. R., & Lucas-Carr, C. (2015). ‘The mother of all comebacks’: A critical analysis of the fitspirational comeback narrative of Dara Torres. Communication and Sport, 1–18. doi: 10.1177/2167479515583480.
  13. Kleiber, D. A., Walker, G. J., & Mannell, R. C. (2011). A social psychology of leisure (2nd ed.). State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Klisch, S., & Soule, K. E. (2015). Increasing families’ physical activity through family fun days. UC Delivers. Retrieved from
  15. Larson, R. W., Gillman, S. A., & Richards, M. H. (1997). Divergent experiences of family leisure: Fathers, mothers, and young adolescents. Journal of Leisure Research, 29(1), 78–97.Google Scholar
  16. Leberman, S. I., & LaVoi, N. M. (2011). Juggling balls and rolls, working mother-coaches in youth sport: Beyond the dualistic worker-mother identity. Journal of Sport Management, 25, 474–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leberman, S. I., & Palmer, F. R. (2009). Motherhood, sport leadership, and domain theory: Experiences from New Zealand. Journal of Sport Management, 23, 305–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mannell, R. C., & Iso-Ahola, S. E. (1987). Psychological nature of leisure and tourism experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 14, 314–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McGannon, K. R., Curtin, K., Schinke, R. J., & Schweinbenz, A. N. (2012). (De)contructing Paula Radcliffe: Exploring media representations of elite running, pregnancy and motherhood through cultural sport psychology. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 820–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Metz, J. L. (2008). An inter-view on motherhood: Racial politics and motherhood in late capitalist sport. Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies, 8(2), 248–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Miller, Y. D., & Brown, W. J. (2005). Determinants of active leisure for women with young children—An ‘ethic of care’ prevails. Leisure Sciences, 27, 405–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Orthner, D. K., & Mancini, J. A. (1991). Benefits of leisure for family bonding. In B. L. Driver, P. J. Brown, & G. L. Peterson (Eds.), Benefits of leisure (pp. 289–301). State College: Venture Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. Palmer, F. R., & Leberman, S. I. (2009). Elite athletes as mothers: Managing multiple identities. Sports Management Review, 12, 241–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pedersen, I. K. (2001). Athletic career: ‘Elite sports mothers’ as a social phenomenon. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 36(3), 259–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shannon, C. S., & Shaw, S. M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shaw, S. M. (1999). Gender and leisure. In E. Jackson & T. Burton (Eds.), Leisure studies. State College: Venture Publishing.Google Scholar
  27. Soule, K. E. (2013). Connected: A phenomenology of attachment parenting. Doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia. Retrieved from
  28. Sunderland, J. (2006). ‘Parenting’ or ‘mothering’? The case of modern childcare magazines. Discourse Society, 17(4), 503–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Thompson, S. M. (1999). Mother’s taxi: Sport and women’s labor. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  30. Tirone, S. C., & Shaw, S. M. (1997). At the center of their lives: Indo Canadian women, their families, and leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 29(2), 225–244.Google Scholar
  31. Trussell, D. E., & Shaw, S. M. (2007). ‘Daddy’s gone and he’ll be back in October’: Farm women’s experiences of family leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(2), 366–387.Google Scholar
  32. Wearing, B. (1990). Beyond the ideology of motherhood: Leisure as resistance. Journal of Sociology, 26, 36–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wearing, B., & Wearing, S. (1988). ‘All in a day’s leisure’: Gender and the concept of leisure. Leisure Studies, 7(2), 111–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yoder, D. G., & Martinez, J. T. (2013). Leisure and recreation for individuals in society. In G. Kasssing, M. Feld, & R. Brito (Eds.), Introduction to recreation and leisure (2nd ed., pp. 61–76). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine E. Soule
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan Luis ObispoUSA

Personalised recommendations