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We all know how much sport can offer kids; we’ve got numerous research studies along with our personal experiences to back it up. Research also shows us that most sport participation rates peak at 13 years old and then continuously drop throughout the teenage years. While many factors contribute to this drop off, a significant area worth exploring is the element of fun in sport, what coaches can do to maximize it and how much it means to young participants.

What if you discover a kid on your team isn’t having fun?

For children, not having fun can stem from a variety of reasons; maybe they’re just not having a good day and the next practice they will be back to their regular selves. On the other hand, if you notice that a kid that once seemed to love the game now seems sullen, uninterested, aggressive or acting out in any other way, chances are there’s something going on that needs to be addressed.

It’s become a common practice for parents to get their children specializing in their given sport as early as possible with the thought that ‘more time to practice will make a better athlete’. While intentions may be good, early sport specialization has been proven time and again to have a detrimental effect on a young person’s mental and physical development and can end in burnout and eventual dropping out of sport altogether. Burnout can be addressed by a child taking a break from sport, attending fewer practices or allowing them to try something new altogether.

If burnout or sport specialization is not a factor, explore the parents’ expectations of their child or the particular sport played, and if necessary, you may wish to examine your own outlook as well.

What should coaches aim for?

  • Focus on skill development and individual improvement rather than focusing on winning competitions and games.
  • Modified games add some variety to practices and keep kids engaged. Keep things active and organized; try to minimize wait times and maximize participation.
  • Be realistic about attention spans, athletic abilities and talent. Not all children mature the same way, pick up skills at the same speed or will be the next prodigy headed for greatness.
  • Allow opportunities for socialization and friendship building – everyone has more fun if they have a friend to joke around with.
  • Make it clear that mistakes or misses are part of the learning process. This approach helps to reduce stress and anxiety when trying something new and encourages kids to keep trying.
  • Place a strong emphasis on group goals, teamwork, and team cohesion. While the focus shouldn’t be on winning, don’t be afraid to set a few challenging goals for kids to work toward.

By being aware of the common pitfalls young people face in sport as they grow up, a coach can better influence and meet their needs. If you’re enthusiastic about your sport and your role as their coach, children will pick up on it and show a similar excitement for what you’re trying to teach. It should be a no-brainer that creating a fun, exciting and positive environment in sport will keep kids returning to the field year after year.

References from the SIRC Collection:

Bengoechea E, Strean W, Williams D. Understanding and promoting fun in youth sport: coaches’ perspectives. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy. November 2004;9(2):197-214.

Martin N. Keeping It Fun in Youth Sport: What Coaches Should Know and Do. Strategies (08924562). September 2014;27(5):27-32.

Strachan L. Enhancing Coach-Parent Relationships in Youth Sports: Increasing Harmony and Minimizing Hassle. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching [serial online]. March 2011;6(1):47-48.

Strean W, Holt N. Coaches’, athletes’, and parents’ perceptions of fun in youth sports: assumptions about learning and implications for practice. / Perceptions des entraineurs, des athletes et des parents, sur le plaisir eprouve par les jeunes dans la pratique sportive: perspectives d’apprentissage et implications dans la pratique. Avante. 2000;6(3):83-98.

Visek A, Manning H. The FUN MAPS: A Youth Sport Scientific Breakthrough. Olympic Coach. December 2014;25(4):39-42.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.