Youth Sports–Fun Activity or Fierce Competition?

A former college athlete myself, I’ve always felt at home on a team. Whether it was on the basketball court or the baseball diamond, it always brought me feelings of absolute enjoyment and a sense of self-worth, even during hard practices and games that didn’t end in victory.

Now a father of four young athlete’s, I’ve been able to approach my participation in sports from different perspectives: coach, observer, and father. I want to make sure my children are getting the most out of each practice and game, and that it’s as memorable of an experience as it was for me in my youth.

As I coach, I like to see young athletes enhance their physical skills, expand their social horizons, and mentally gain confidence in their ability to work with and lead their peers.

Young athletes having fun

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As an observer, I like to see my daughters win.

As a father, I simply want them to have fun.

Research gathered in a 2014 study for George Washington University found that the number one sport goal for young athlete’s is to have fun. The goal of winning comes after having fun, improving and learning new skills, spending time with and making new friends, and for the thrill and excitement of the game.

The life long physical, social, and psychological benefits of participating in sports comes from a focus on participation and an emphasis on fun, not winning, contrary to many adults beliefs. And yes, winning is fun when it happens, but it won’t always happen. Especially with children who don’t have the certain amount of developed motor skills just yet and will sometimes goof off during a game or practice because, hey, they’re still just kids!

As a parent and coach, it’s important to promote fun through consistent positive attitudes, support and encouragement, and positive reinforcements. Instead of saying “If you had swung one second earlier, you would have hit that ball…” try “Your accuracy has improved with each game, soon you’ll be able to crack that ball out of the park!”

Young soccer players

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If we consciously promote fun, perhaps we can lower the rate of children dropping out of organized sports. By age thirteen, 70 percent of youth athletes will drop out of organized sports. While some might argue this is because by the time they hit their teens, those who are less skilled and athletically talented are weeded out. But that simply isn’t so: sports just loose their luster to kids when they become more about competition and less about having fun.