Play ball: Dads, daughters bond through sports

By Taylor Rexrode
Staff Writer

We often hear of the phrase “daddy’s little girl” as if fathers and daughters share a special bond unlike any other. A study at Baylor shows that this father-daughter dynamic may be linked to sports.

Dr. Mark Morman, director of graduate studies in the communication department, has released a study showing that fathers and daughters are fostering relationships through shared activities. He performed this study with alumna Elizabeth Barrett, who now works in the Texas House of Representatives. Barrett could not be reached for comment.

Morman sees the sports activities connection between young women and their dads as a way to bridge the gap between the masculine and feminine.

“A lot of the research points to dad as ‘playmate’ and as a source of activity,” Morman said. “Fathers tend to pull their daughters toward the masculine, not the other way around.”

Research shows the traditional feminine approach to closeness is through dialogue while the masculine approach is typically through activity.

More and more, fathers are staying heavily involved in their children’s lives, especially through sporting events. Houston freshman Audrey Brook, center midfielder on the women’s soccer team, says her dad’s involvement through sports was a big part of building their relationship.

“I’ve played soccer my whole life and my dad has always been there for me,” Brook said. “It brought us closer. This is my first semester and he hasn’t missed a home game.”

Brook’s father coached many elementary and middle school teams that she and her siblings participated in years ago.

“If he wasn’t the coach, he was always there coaching me along,” Brook said.

Fifty years ago, these cross-sex dynamics — father-daughter and mother-son relationships—were not heavily researched or understood. Morman said that these relationships have been able to develop with the changing of gender identities and roles within the family.

Morman says one major change in the overall fatherly role happened at the individual level between fathers, sons and grandfathers.

“Either men will copy what their dads did or they will compensate for what their dads did or didn’t do,” Morman said. “There’s a growing realization for men where they realize their dads didn’t do a good job or the were too distant. Men recognize that and say, ‘I’m not going to do that to my kid’.”

“There is shift away from dad as the provider and disciplinarian to dad as a playmate or someone plugged in and engaged with his children,” Morman said. “I think there’s a changing notion of masculinity in our culture. We aren’t so cowboy, John Wayne, stoic-kind of masculine anymore. It’s more acceptable for men to be open.”