The following analyses seek to investigate the narrative storylines and dilemmatic spaces articulated by the participants during the interviews. The personal narratives are investigated as part of a wider context and the trajectories for personal stories are limited and contextually specific [25
]. During the interviews in this study, particular storylines and dilemmas are repeated and the findings illustrate how the participants handles dilemmas of learning, coaching, and parenthood. The findings include three of these recurrent practices trying to balance among various positions and thus, in light of the theoretical and methodological starting point, described as dilemmatic spaces [9
]. In this section these dilemmas will be illustrated using typical examples from the entire empirical material. The analyses yielded the identification of three recurrent dilemmas: (i) the dual position (being a father and being a coach); (ii) balancing between care and performance; and (iii) coaching as quality time and the autonomous child.
4.1. The Dual Position: Being a Father and Being a Coach
Coaching your own child is, of course, part of the relationship between father and son, but it is also part of a wider pattern of changing sociocultural expectations [6
]. The area of child and youth sports is a site that offers parents good opportunities to be engaged in their children’s life. Since the 1950s, this area has provided fathers with a context where they can be involved in the fostering of their child without challenging traditional norms of masculinity [6
]. In contemporary western societies, many areas of child fostering, from pre-school to upper secondary school, has been increasingly feminized and carried out by female professionals. However, organized sports are still today considered a masculine enclave, to a large extent controlled and governed by men and where traditional gender ideologies are reproduced [6
]. The context of sports has often been highlighted as a convenient site for men to be involved in and, thereby, a suitable for area for fathers to enter without having to deal with the dilemma of balancing between a traditional orthodox masculinity and a more caring and inclusive masculinity [8
]. Unlike many other child caring practices, in sports, fathers are taking the primary responsibility and seems to be eager to participate [1
In this study, a recurrent dilemmatic space deals with the balancing act of juggling the dual positions of being a father and a coach [17
]. This produces a dilemmatic space of relational identity change and a grey zone where seemingly contradictory ideals of caring for one’s own child may threaten the overall idea of every child’s right to be treated equal. In the example below, Andy describes how everyday conflicts are hard to separate from the training session and how this at times can put the child in a problematic situation.
Excerpt 1: Putting everyday conflicts aside
Magnus: If you should highlight, like, particular challenges of being the coach of your own child. What would that be?
Andy: (1) ah (1) yes, it’s that you are also a parent (1) ah, and (1) to a child, this can be pretty hard to differentiate, when you act as a father and when you act as a coach, sort of. Sometimes, at least. That’s, that’s a pretty big challenge. Particularly in relation to your OWN child. Like, during training and matches and stuff. And stuff like that. Like, not favor [your own child], but rather think that he’s just one in the team, along with everyone else. That’s a challenge, I think. And then to (2) To not step in. When you’re a coach, like, not step into the same conflicts on the training pitch that you can have at home. About the same (.) to bring a lot of nagging and conflicts on to the training and stuff like that. To really try to (.) cut that off when you start the training or the match. Now it’s the team in focus and the things we discussed earlier as father-son, that’s something to deal with afterwards. That can be, it IS definitely a challenge I think.
In this example, Andy is emphasizing the complex relationship between everyday problems as a father and his position as a coach. The example highlights the dilemma of place and relational identity change. When the training starts, the relationship changes and previous discussions must be put on hold. When entering the coach position, this means focusing more on technical ability and less on care or fathering. In line with previous studies addressing parent–child relations in sports, this illustrates how family relations are reconstructed when children are entering sports and how parental behavior are affected [17
]. In this case, the father–son relation is paused and changes into a more performance based and informal coach–athlete relation. The participants are also emphasizing that this can be both a good or a bad thing. For example, the training session either can cause everyday conflicts to cool down, but conflicts can also be pushed away and not be dealt with. Conflicts linked to the child’s general behavior and relationship to other peers is often a central issue. Behavior that may be perceived as difficult but manageable in an everyday context can become highly problematic in an athletic context. In another example, Freddy describes how this dual position is hard to separate and how it tends to overlap one another.
Excerpt 2: Father-coach position as a grey-zone
Magnus: I’m thinking that (.) How does being a parental coach effect your relation? How does it effect, like, the child-parent relation?
Freddy: It is effected (1) I’m in a grey-zone [mm] In that I (.) can also see in our everyday life. Ah, like you have to eat, because you have to practice. Like, that’s a parental part but it is also a coach part. Like, I know you’re going to be tired during practice, you won’t be able cope with this. Because I have seen you there if you haven’t been eating. So, at home it is everything. So, I’m a coach at home also. That’s what I’ve always done. We are a sports family. I don’t know how I’ve been (.) if I haven’t been their coach. But I think I’m always somewhat their coach. Always. Even at home. I know that – now you have to eat, now you need this because your about to go to practice soon and I don’t want you to be as prepared as you can, because I know what happens if you are not. But, I think I’m always acting a little bit as a coach. That, that’s tough (.) or tough and tough, yes (1) I’m not sure we’re you can draw the line but. Between parent-, because I know too much about what they are doing and that results in me poking on what they are doing instead of just giving them praise. Like, that’s good, that was funny. Did you have fun? (1) Like, I already know what happened during practice (.) all the time.
In this case, Freddy talks about being in a grey zone and emphasizes that the dual position is hard to distinguish from the position as father. He also underlines how he is always, to some extent, acting as a coach. In line with previous research, this further highlights how children’s sports are an important part of family life. Accordingly, Freddy defines the family as “a sport-family”. Children’s sports participation is central not only as an activity or as a context of informal learning, but as part of family identity. Throughout the interviews, sport is emphasized as an important part of family identity. For this group, sports are an important common leisure time interest and, thus, a central part in the construction of the family identity [20
]. In addition, the fathers are often emphasizing that it is difficult for the child to decode when they act as coaches and when they act as fathers. However, even if this issue is frequently underlined in the interviews, this difficulty is left vague and unproblematized.
4.2. Balancing between Care and Performance
Being involved as a father in your children’s sporting activities are recognized as a field for men to meet sociocultural expectations of participating in child care [6
]. Fatherhood and the role as an involved father have changed in many ways the last decades and particularly regarding young boys in sports [3
]. It is often emphasized that there are two contrasting cultural models of masculinity to balance: an orthodox competitive, hard, and performance-based masculinity and an inclusive masculinity characterized by caring, emotional competence, and nurturing [8
]. Traditionally, sports have been (and in many aspects still are) a highly competitive area also when it comes to child and youth sports. This is also highlighted as an educational area permeated by a logic of skills development. That is, children participating in organized sports are expected to not only participate, but to develop athletic skills. At the same time, the field of child and youth sports has been criticized for being an arena producing distorted norms of masculinity [23
]. However, when the participants are explicitly asked about whether they can identify or have had any problems in their teams with troublesome norms of masculinity, they stress that, although this is a problem in sports generally, it is not a problem in their particular group. Some of them emphasize that they have met such problems from opponents. Despite this, a central issue still seems to be the relationship between care and performance. The next example illustrates a dilemma that shows how the father-coaches are struggling with balancing ideals of caring (an inclusive masculinity) and sporting skills and athletic performance (an orthodox masculinity). This dilemmatic space is recurrent in the material and it is this dual position that is highlighted as especially challenging. In the next excerpt, Freddy describes a typical example of how this dilemma is intertwined.
Excerpt 3: A tricky position
Magnus: Are you any different towards him ((your son)) at home in contrast to football training?
Freddy: (8) Ah (2). That was tricky (2) yes, I am the coach at football practice so to speak and I am a father at home. But, as I said before, it’s a grey zone. I have them both in gymnastics and football practice. I’m coaching them three times a week in football and in gymnastics two. So we’re together all afternoons and evenings. Just in different environments. If we’re at home, well that’s one environment. But, but it’s hard to separate (ha-ha) I have all the boys at my house anyway so. Ah (3) I’m trying to be more close and more loving at home than during practice. There I’m maybe more technical and more objective. (3) less feelings in practice than at home, I think (2). Trying. It’s probably hard. It is.
This example again illuminates how space and behavior are interwoven. The storyline illustrates the difficulties in separating the dual position and how behavioral expectations change. At the same time, they float into each other in everyday social practice and produce the position of “always being a coaching father”. Freddy shows how the roles involve different behaviors as the father position includes “being more close and loving”, while the coach role means “being more technical, more objective”. This division is also underlined as tricky. In conversation analysis, pauses are central to the story often indicating that what is going to be narrated is a difficult or contested area [33
]. In this example, this is also explicitly confirmed by the speaker (“that was tricky” and “I’m trying to […]”). In line with previous studies about fatherhood in sports, this shows the dilemma of balancing care and expectations and to separate the coach role from the father role and how this is difficult to distinguish [6
]. The position as coach includes an (implicit) requirement to treat everyone equally, while the fatherhood position demands (implicit) requirements on special care for your own child. In the entire empirical material, the first requirement frequently prevails or is at least considered. One does not want to appear as someone who improperly favors his own child and, thereby, downgrades the demand for equal care. This central dilemma involves balancing between favoring your own child or being overly harsh on them. Previous research has also illustrated how this is a recurrent dilemma to balance in many different areas [9
]. This is interconnected to the normative idea that children should be treated equal as a central part in many areas of contemporary society, which is found in school curriculums worldwide emphasizing equivalent education or in the UN Convention of the rights of the child. This is also in many ways the core principle of child and youth sports and, thereby, an important principle to balance [2
]. Moreover, this is a dilemmatic space where the father-coach has to manage having a stake in their own child’s best. Potter [33
] illustrates how people rhetorically have to handle stake and interest to create legitimacy. A specific way of acting could be undermined if the person can be shown to have a vested interest in the particular action they provide. In this case, running the risk of appearing to favor one’s own child is a significant risk to one’s legitimacy as a coach. The parent can be seen to have a stake in the matter, thus undermining the objectivity of their actions. In the next example, Luc is hoping that the system with parental coaches will end when the children turn 13 years old and explains:
Excerpt 4: The parental coach as one-sided and biased
Luc: […] but, but now he’s XX ((year the child is born)). So I see that next year, I hope that they don’t have any parents as coaches. But we will see.
Magnus: What, what (.) What is it that makes you hope for that?
Luc: Like, I think it is (.) partly it is. It is ALWAYS that. It doesn’t matter what people say! Like either you are too kind or you are too hard (HA-HA (Appendix A
)) on your son, or something like that. It’s like that.
Even if most of the participants do not in the same explicit way as Luc claim that it is impossible to find a balance, they are all in different ways highlighting the risk of favoritism as a problematic space. This is something to be aware of and to avoid in order to evade potential problems of appearing biased towards your own child. Thereby, having an apparent interest in the matter runs the risk of undermining the objectivity of the coach’s actions and must be handled in order to gain legitimacy [33
]. In this case, the coach’s interest (in the best for their own child) is so obvious that many of the informants are emphasizing that they overcompensate with formal (and informal) regulations in interaction with their own child. In another example, Dick emphasizes that they have discussed discipline and the dual father-coach position.
Excerpt 5: Things in order—just like at home
Magnus: Have you talked about it. Or is it something you-
Dick: -we have, like. I little bit, like what he thinks. About me holding the training sessions. And I can ask him a bit about, like, what he thinks. If I’m too harsh.
Magnus: and what does he answer?
Dick: Ah (2) Yeah, but he can say that I can be tough, sort of. Like, in training. But (.) he is so used to it. Maybe more than other kids are. A bit more maybe, things in order. Like, if there’s a training, it doesn’t work if everyone’s in a pile. Ah, because training time is ticking, sort of. That’s how (.) I live at home also, sort of. Somehow, that’s. No, but that is how we have discussed a bit. And I KNOW he thinks it’s good when I attend the training.
Another learning dilemma in the balancing between care and performance is how to handle selections for matches, tournaments, or first teams. For decades, sport has been an important marker of social status and being good at sports still generates high status in today’s youth culture [2
]. In selection practices, much is at stake and the parental coaches are well aware of this. Moreover, in a Scandinavian sports context, there is a strong narrative emphasizing problems with early specialization, underlining that talent selection should be made after puberty. This is also supported by a strong research discourse questioning both the accuracy of early selection and the moral implication of selecting the (potentially) gifted children at an early age [18
]. Many national sports organizations, including the Swedish Sports Confederation, are now proclaiming that they explicitly oppose early specialization and instead recommend children and clubs to encourage a multitude of sporting activities during adolescence in so-called sampling years [26
]. The results show that the participants are aware of this recommendation, which makes selection a contested area. At the same time, heterogeneous groups can create conflicts as the interest in the sporting activities are shifting. This is a central educational dilemma for the coaches in the interviews. Another recurrent way of handling this is by emphasizing how this could be a problem, but in the particular case their own sons are among the best in the team and, therefore, the legitimacy of the selection is given (e.g., for their child to play in the advanced division rather than the easy division). Thereby, it is framed as an obvious selection that is hard to question, at least not on the basis of sporting skills. This dilemma is exemplified in the next example.
Excerpt 6: I don’t want to say weak
Freddy: Well, some kids who wants to play. While we have two groups, they are easy-players ((referring to the division level they are playing at)), but the parents wants them to play in hard, but they are not at that level. Then we’re trying to explain to them that we are not dividing the team so that the better get better, but for the easier to have an easier environment. But they don’t understand that. They think that we have selected the best and then there are these left. But I would say that it is the other way around […]
Magnus: The goal is care for the weak?
Freddy: I would say, I don’t want to say weak. They haven’t got as far. They have another interest and another goal […]. I don’t want to say that they are worse or better. They have these three different levels that are different than those how (.) so that’s interest, skills and goalsetting that are different. And then we have chosen these different parts.
This is a recurrent way of rhetorically handling a dilemma where two seemingly contradictory parts are handled as if they were assets. In this example, leveling (grouping within the team based on skills level) is done within the group, but done out of care of the weaker rather than for the stronger to develop at a higher speed. At the same time, some words seem to be highly contested or problematic to use in this learning context. One cannot speak of some children being inferior, worse, or weak. Instead, this group is categorized as “less interested”, “the ones not yet at this level”, or “those who have not got as far yet”. At the same time, the term can be used to explain, but this must be managed rhetorically through concession—I am using this categorization, but I would rather not. In conversation analysis, concessions are often explained as accounts used by speakers when they explicitly acknowledge potential counter-claims [33
]. The position the speaker occupies seems to be more reasonable and trustworthy since they appear to have considered both side before accepting such categorization. Thereby, the speaker presents himself as both balanced and informed.
4.3. Coaching as Quality-Time and the Autonomous Child
One of the main reasons for the fathers to volunteer as coaches is a desire to spend more time with their child and to build strong social bonds through sports. Instead of letting the child spend (even more) time on their own, perhaps in front of a screen or with friends, spending time with your father during training is considered quality father–son time. Paradoxically, sports participation is a way for children to build autonomy and draw boundaries about levels and types of involvement. Young people can be seen as subjected to parental involvement but also as active in the co-construction of this relationship. In this study, the participants are primarily highlighting learning in terms of growing social bonds with their child. For example, Dick explains:
Excerpt 7: Competition as building social bonds
Magnus: Do you think that your relation has changed (.) by you being coach?
Dick: Ah (4) No, but I think it has strengthened (.) even more. Because I know that he appreciates when I‘m at the training (.) and holding the training than if I’m not.
Ah, and you know each other inside and out, sort of, like that. So I can see if they are excited ((in Swedish: taggade)) or not as excited. Like, in training. You can talk about it afterwards and sort of, like (.) No, I was tired or I had a sore throat or (.) Sort of like that. So it has only been strengthened and it´s been more now since we started playing more and more matches. So, so that’s fun to feel. When you feel like, like his competitive instinct. And just that, fuck we were good! We won, or we did a good game or (1) we lost but, like, fought. So, so it has definitely been strengthened. It is only positive.
In the example, Dick is repeating how the relationship is strengthened by his engagement as a coach. In the material, the position as coach is often emphasized as a builder of social bonds and the joy of seeing their child in a competitive environment. It is underlined as quality time together apart from the home environment, often explained as “just time together” (or rather in the same area). The results are in line with previous research that shows how involvement as a parental coach is explained as a way to ensure time together but also a way to build a close relation [17
]. In addition, this is done in the sporting context where the fathers are feeling both secure and skilled. In the example above, Dick is showing a common answer from the entire empirical material, by emphasizing how acting as a coach is the best way for spending more time together. This is further illustrated by the next storyline that emphasizes the own child’s participation as a prerequisite for voluntary coaching.
With one exception, all the coaches underline that their engagement in voluntary work in sports is conditional upon their own child’s participation. As exemplified by the examples from John and Leon, it is unthinkable to continue without one’s own child. Even if the majority of coaches are highlighting a strong interest in sports and an emphasis on sports as an important area in fostering good citizens, they are unwilling to continue without their own child. In addition, a recurrent storyline emphasizes that the position as a coach in child and youth sports can contribute and be of great importance for the participants. Nevertheless, even if the coaches find their involvement rewarding on a personal level, it is not enough to keep them involved if their sons are not engaged. In many areas of voluntary work, the reward of “doing good” or “making a difference” is often highlighted, rather than acting for your own good [1
]. In contrast, this study shows that the father–son relationship seems to be more central for engagement than a general interest in sports or making an effort in a general fostering and care assignment. For example, John and Leon reply in the following examples to the question if they would continue coaching even if their own child quit playing.
Excerpt 8: Not without my child
John: […] and if he no longer want to play? I would step down from the coach’s role (.) immediately.
Excerpt 9: Not a chance!
Leon: NOT A CHANCE! I would quit directly. Then there are a lot of other things to spend time on. Not a chance that I should continue!
These examples show how this voluntary assignment is intimately connected to the own child’s participation and their interest rather than solely the coach’s own interest. In contrast to previous research showcasing altruistic premises for voluntary work and an aspiration to “do good”, these results show that it is rather to do good for your own child that is at the center here. Thereby, parenthood is primarily concerned with enhancing the life changes of your own child [10
]. Moreover, this means changing condition for voluntary work in sports and gives implications for the clubs. For the parental coaches, the focus is on educating for “the good of the family” rather than “for the good of society” [12
]. These examples also illustrate a wider child-at-the center discourse, central to many areas of contemporary western societies [13
]. Moreover, these changes also contribute to altering the ways in which traditional non-profit sport clubs function. In such scenario, coaches are temporary and their engagement is linked to one specific team under a limited time and, accordingly, they are team coaches rather than club coaches [10
]. Previous studies also illustrate the structural changes and new conditions for voluntary work and learning in organized child and youth sports [1