If you were to take a survey of 100 people and ask them how they came to be fans of their favourite sports teams, a vast majority of them would probably tell you that their favourite sports team was inherited or passed down from their parents. In other words, many children cheer for the same teams as their parents, where fathers generally have the most influence. And considering the fact that we often look up to our parents as children, this makes sense.
But is there a chance that children could also influence their parent’s fandom choices? According to research, the answer is yes – and it happens through a process called reverse socialization.
What is Reverse Socialization?
Typically, the process of socialization involves parents teaching their children to adapt to a set of norms, behaviours, and attitudes. This is normal, and widely accepted by society. But what many people don’t realize is that children can also socialize their parents. When this happens, it’s called reverse socialization.
Let’s use an example – the sneeze.
When we sneeze, we all know that it’s polite to sneeze into our sleeve. Why? Because sneezing can spread germs and we don’t want to pass those germs onto our friends. But at one point in time, when your parents were young, you didn’t sneeze into your sleeve, you sneezed into your hand – and that was considered polite. Teenagers nowadays, however, would probably cringe at the thought of someone sneezing into their hand and then shaking hands with another. So what do they do? They teach their parents the new way. “Ew mom, you don’t sneeze into your hand, you sneeze into your sleeve. I don’t want your germs”.
And as soon as mom adapts this new behaviour – BAM – you have engaged in the process of reverse socialization. You have taught your mom the new, polite, acceptable way to sneeze.
And the same process can be used in sport fandom. A mother who never took an interest in soccer before, may now be its biggest fan, all because their child got involved in the sport. Similarly, a father may suddenly become a fan of the Leafs, simply because his son is such a big fan.
To read an interesting story about how a fan became heavily involved because of their parent’s and grandparent’s interest, click here.
How much can children influence their parents Sporting Choices?
In a 1978 study by Baranowski, 64% of parents stated that their children influenced their knowledge of sports.
Another study by Ekstrom in 2007 suggested that when children participate in a sport that their parents are unfamiliar with, the parents tend to become more involved in the sport.
The current study by Craig Hyatt (my favourite professor of all time at Brock!) and Shannon Kerwin, from Brock University, found similar findings. In their research, they studied 20 parents who were fans of sporting teams. Of the twenty parents, 15 stated that their children influenced their sport fandom.
Based on the interests of their children, some parents changed their attitudes towards existing fandoms, and others developed new fandoms altogether.
Based on the interviews, it was concluded that there were several circumstances under which parents may have developed new fandoms:
- A parent became interested in a new sport after their child became a fan
- The parent became interested in a new sport after their child started playing the sport
- A parent still had their favourite team, but took on their child’s favourite team as a secondary fandom
- The parent switched allegiance from their favourite team to that of their child’s favourite team.
Parents that changed their existing attitudes were found to do so for one of two reasons:
- The role of the parent became more important than the role of a fan, so they took on the interests of their children
- The parent increased their knowledge on a sport to keep up with the interests of their child.
So why does this type of reverse socialization take place? Craig Hyatt and Shannon Kerwin suggest that it may have something to do with Identity Theory.
What is Identity Theory?
As individuals, we each take on a variety of different roles. You may be a son, a brother, a friend, a hockey player, a student, and a sport fan all at the same time. In other words, you have several different identities. When you take on each individual identity, your attitudes and behaviours may change to adapt to suit that role. But sometimes our identities can be in combat with one another.
Let’s do another example:
You play hockey. To support your role as a hockey player, you must dedicate a great deal of time to games and practice. So playing hockey all weekend supports your role as a hockey player. In many cases this is okay, but what if you have a big exam that you have to study for on Monday? Now your role as a hockey player is interfering with your role as a student. In such a case, you may decide that studying for your exam is more important than practicing for hockey that weekend (or visa versa).
The same thing can happen in terms of reverse socialization in fandom.
In a study by Tinson et al. (2017), it was found that sporting is used as a form of family bonding. When family members watch sports and cheer for the same team, it creates a bonding experience. So when a parent has a different favourite team than a child, it can interfere with the bonding process. In such a case, the parent may need to decide what is more important; their favourite team, or the bonding experience that they share with their child.
Yet another example
Perhaps your mom is a big fan of the Maple Leafs, but you have grown to be a big fan of the Calgary Flames. Her role as a fan of the Maple Leafs doesn’t necessarily coincide with her role of a parent (because it interferes with the bonding process). So in loyalty to her child, she changes her favourite team. In this case, her role as a parent won out over her role as a fan.
And this is one theory as to why reverse socialization takes place in the world of fandom.
Why does this matter?
To the average person, these findings may not have much effect. But to the advertisers, they make a huge difference.
According to these findings, advertisers need to start directing campaigns not only to parents, but also to their children. This may mean making Team Mascots more child friendly, or creating cartoon based Mascots and playing advertisements on child-based platforms like YouTube or video games.