University of Minnesota
Kelli Blankenship stands with her research adviser, Nicole LaVoi, in front of their poster, "Not All Sports Parents Are 'Out of Control': The Happy Side of Youth Sports."
U student-athlete's research is part of special Homecoming Week event at stadium
By Rick Moore
Kelli Blankenship has spent much of her life playing the sport of her choice—hockey—in front of parents of all types. She knows firsthand the rap against some hockey parents; namely, that they can be overly intense and, ahem ... less than polite to referees.
But Blankenship, a senior forward on the Gopher women's hockey team, had a chance to take a look at another side of sports parents in her recent research project, "Not All Sports Parents are 'Out of Control': The Happy Side of Youth Sports." She was part of a research team that included her mentor, Nicole LaVoi, a research associate in kinesiology and the associate director of the U's Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
Among Blankenship's findings is that the athletes were most likely to make parents happy (70 percent) during their child's competition, much more so than coaches (21 percent), other parents (8 percent), or referees (1 percent). In addition, parents were happiest about their child's positive experiences, followed by their child's performance and their development.
"Performances and experiences were more important to parents than the kids' actual development," notes Blankenship. "In other words, if their kid hit a home run as opposed to holding the bat right, the home run would be more encouraged on the parents' side."
For Blankenship, the opportunity to do research with LaVoi has been a highlight of her time as an undergraduate student in kinesiology. And she loves to explain the results with anyone who is interested.
"I think that was my favorite part [of the research], reaching that end product and being able to share that with everyone," she says. "That gave people an understanding as to what I was doing. Some of my teammates came out to [a previous] poster session, along with my coaches and a bunch of the staff. They definitely [appreciate] the research, but whether or not they really understand what it takes to get that end product, probably not so much."
She is also quick to credit LaVoi for her mentoring assistance. "She really, really helped me out," says Blankenship. "She was really patient with me and she gave me a lot of very helpful advice. Not just for the research but for other pieces I'm going to need to take into my academics."
After finishing her kinesiology degree this year, Blankenship plans to become a dental hygienist.
"I have always had a passion for teeth—taking care of my teeth—and I love going to the dentist," she says. "I love the hands-on interaction and the social aspect of working with other people and working for people. It's what I want to do for sure."
Blankenship, incidentally, appears to practice what she one day will preach. She has a million-dollar smile worthy of a TV commercial for any dental care product—a far cry from the mug of your average National Hockey League player.
Speaking of hockey, Blankenship and her teammates opened their season this past weekend with two games against Syracuse. But as this interview was winding down, her focus was clearly on the topic at hand. "Would you like to know a little bit more about my research?" she asked.
Research on display during 'The Ultimate Homecoming'
Blankenship has already presented her research twice, including at a poster session for McNair Scholars at the end of the summer. Now she has been invited to share her findings again at the Student Scholar and Public Engagement Showcase on Wednesday, October 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium. The showcase is among the featured academic components of this year's "Ultimate Homecoming" week October 4-11, which celebrates the return of football to campus after a 28-year absence.
Falling three days before the Golden Gophers take the field against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Homecoming football game, it will fill the stadium with posters from University undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—as well as recent alumni—along with art and design displays and exhibits of faculty and staff public engagement activities. As many as 150 student projects and 40 faculty and staff exhibits will be on display.
This Student Scholar and Public Engagement Showcase is expected to attract an audience of local colleges, high schools, corporations, and nonprofits, and will serve the dual purpose of spotlighting student work and providing recruitment opportunities. University faculty and staff, as well as families of presenters, are also invited to attend.