A series from Golf Ireland bringing you the stories from some of the most interesting golfers and personalities across golf in Ireland.

Words by Daragh Small

A recent study undertaken at Ulster University has created a tool which will help researchers better understand how parents support their children in sport, with a particular emphasis on golf.

Together with her supervisory team, Ballinrobe golfer Shannon Burke produced the measure of parental support in youth sport with some interesting findings.

This was her fourth paper as part of PhD and the Mayo native is determined to find out more in this area as she continues her lecturing at MTU in Cork.

Meanwhile, she travels to Woodbrook this weekend looking to make the most of her opportunity at the Flogas Irish Women’s Amateur Open Championship.

“For me it’s just to try and enjoy it,” said Burke.

“There are certain processes that I go through and I know if I go through those, that is when I play my best golf.

“In previous years golf would have been a major part of my life but now it is just a part of my life and expectations aren’t as great. What that actually does is it brings a little bit of freedom.

“I want to go out and compete and obviously play good golf but I also want to try and enjoy it as much as possible because it’s not every week I get to play.”

Growing up in Kilmaine

Burke is from Kilmaine in County Mayo and she played every sport growing up, with Gaelic football the main interest until she joined Ballinrobe when she was in her early teens.

Her siblings Michael (31) and Maggie (25) were also sports fanatics and it was no surprise when Burke joined the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship at Maynooth University – she studied her Undergraduate Degree in Psychology.

“I went on and did my Masters in Sports and Exercise Psychology at Ulster University and did my PhD there as well under the supervision of Lee-Ann Sharp, who is Golf Ireland’s lead psychologist. We both had links with golf,” said Burke.

She had found the perfect outlet to pursue her interest in psychology and sport and she was intrigued by the area of how parents play a crucial role in the growth of young athletes, especially female golfers.

“There hadn’t been a whole lot of research done in relation to how parents can support their children in the context of golf,” said Burke.

“I was always interested in that social support network around the athlete. The coach, the parent, even siblings, how they influenced the athlete’s development and enjoyment in sport.

“And then Lee-Ann also had a similar interest and there was a real lack of evidence there around how parents can support their children in golf and that is where that research stemmed from.”

Publishing her first paper

Burke published her first paper in late 2021 where she looked into how parent-education programs in youth sports are designed to improve parental involvement, support, and reduce stress for parents, coaches, and athletes.

However, their effectiveness, design, and evaluation methods were not well understood. Her review looked to assess the impact of these programs on parental support, examine the theories behind them and evaluate how the programs are evaluated.

In January 2023, Burke published her paper on ‘Athletes’ perceptions of unsupportive parental behaviours in competitive female youth golf’.

Shannon Burke Pic3

Her findings showed the importance for professionals to work with sports organisations to create safe environments in youth sports. The insights could help create better educational programs and resources for the parents.

Her penultimate publication was ‘Advancing a grounded theory of parental support in competitive girls’ golf’. This examined 61 girls’ perceptions of parental support in youth golf through focus groups in eight countries.

The research developed a theory of parental support based on individual preferences which includes: instrumental, informational, emotional and autonomy. The study offered new insights into parental support in girls' golf and enhanced the understanding of support mechanisms in youth sports.

Four types of support

“We explored what type of support they like to receive from their parents and also what type they don’t,” said Burke.

“What came from that grounded theory was there are four types of support but what was really important was that there isn’t one universal type of support that will meet every athlete or golfer’s needs. When it came to each golfer they all had individual needs or preferences.

“If the parents had a lot of golf knowledge or expertise the child was comfortable with that parent providing them with some technical support. But if the child had a parent that had known nothing about golf or didn’t have that expertise they were a lot less comfortable with their parents providing that technical support.

“There is a number of different factors that influence how the child wanted to be supported. What is really key is that two-way communication between the parent and the child so that they can openly communicate how can I support you today or what do you need from me today to help you prepare or help you perform at your best.

“It’s important that communication happens regularly. What we know is what children want from their parents changes frequently.”

Fourth and final paper

Burke published her fourth and final paper of her PhD recently, ‘The development and validation of the Youth Sport Parental Support-Questionnaire’.

This questionnaire and its four factors, autonomy, emotional, instrumental, informational support, shows reliability and validity. And this is a tool that can help researchers evaluate parent-support programs and understand factors that influence their effectiveness.

“It’s a tool or questionnaire that we developed that assesses the type of support parents provide to youth athletes,” said Burke.

“Parents provide four main types of support to children. We distribute that questionnaire  to athletes and it allows us to get a better understanding of the types of support that their parents provide in relation to the four different strands,” said Burke.

Lecturing in Sports and Exercise Psychology

The 28-year-old has finished her PhD and now spends up to 18 hours per week lecturing across Sports and Exercise Psychology modules in Cork.

Burke works in the Department of Sport, Leisure, and Childhood Studies in MTU and teaches modules across three courses along with supporting dissertation students in their Final Year projects. 

It makes for an intensive week lecturing almost 180 students but with the summer evenings she has the chance to play more golf and also being a member in Douglas she has another outlet for her game.

Burke is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist as well and has worked with teams, players and coaches across GAA, rugby, cricket, basketball and golf.

But it is the latter that she has been playing for over 15 years now and having teed it up alongside two of the best golfers in the in world, she now knows what makes the elite tick too.

“That’s a really random one,” said Burke.

Shannon Burke Pic4

Playing in a Pro-Am with Brooks Koepka and Shane Lowry

“There was a competition on Instagram, if you comment or share the post you will be in with a chance to play a Pro-Am with Brooks Koepka and Shane Lowry.

“I did it without thinking a whole lot. I was after just starting my PhD in Ulster. I was two weeks out from our first major assessment. I got this message on Instagram saying can you send us your contact details.

“It transpired that I had won the competition to go play with them. They flew me out and put me up in a really nice hotel. I had a great week.

“It was probably the most nervous I ever was. I played in a lot of competitions and tournaments that I would have contended in but it was definitely the most nervous I was but was brilliant.

“I tried to soak it up as much as possible and ask as many questions off Shane and Brooks and they were brilliant in fairness. Just observing them, how laid back they were. It was the day before the tournament and that was a major thing for me, how laid back they were.

“It wasn’t too intense for them. They had done a lot of their prep at that point and that was one thing that stood out for me, to try and enjoy it as much as possible.”

To find out more about the great work being done at clubs in Ireland - visit the Golf Ireland website.

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