Building a foundation of fun
By Sara Robinson, MA
If you ask a teenage athlete why she first got started in sports, she probably won’t remember, or will tell you that her parents got her involved.
And if you ask that same teenager why she continued, she’ll probably tell you something along the lines of “because it was fun,” “I made good friends” or “I had a good time.” Kids may not always start sports because of the fun factor, but many continue with them because of it – though only up to a point.
We see stats on the dropout rates and when kids are polled as to why they left many say they decided to leave because it wasn’t fun anymore.
As coaches or parents, what can you do?
Coaches and parents have a direct link to athletes’ experiences in sports, which means you can directly influence the amount of fun (or perception of fun) that young athletes experience. Notice the idea of “perception:” while early morning practices aren’t necessarily fun, you can encourage athletes to find enjoyment in the improvements they are making in their training; and you can help them see that being with their team, even during grueling workouts, is enjoyable.
While perception is important, here are three ways to help create and sustain fun as a part of your athletes’ experiences:
Communicate that fun is an important value on the team
When you let your athletes and parents know that fun is a core value you have as a coach, you’re more likely to follow through with keeping that value alive. You can still have high expectations, and be serious as needed, but when athletes know that fun is important (and is okay to have), they’re more likely to experience it. It is also helpful to tell your athletes that if they are not having fun, you would like to hear about it and help to remedy that.
Create fun on and off the field
Athletes can enjoy themselves in and out of practice. Coming together off the field often helps to create enjoyable moments and lasting memories. These out-of-practice experiences are hugely important for teams that take practice a bit more seriously, seem to experience less fun in practice, or desire a more serious approach to sports. Fun should be had on a regular basis, but this doesn’t always mean it has to be in practice: Enjoying the ride to the field with teammates, creating a tradition of frozen yogurt after the weekend game or hanging out for 15 minutes after practice for a causal game or activity can up the fun factor.
Ask the athletes for ways to make practice more fun
While you don’t have to follow through with every idea, you may get some very creative and effective ways to not only create fun situations, but by changing up practice you can also help increase motivation. Think about how you can get your athletes involved in some of the decision making, such as letting them choose the warm up, pick the order for drills, or even give them free time to scrimmage. If you have access to music, consider getting the team to create a playlist that gets their energy and their enjoyment up while at practice (or even in the minutes leading up to the start of practice).
Kids are more likely to stay involved in sports if they are having fun. So take the time to pay attention to how much fun your athletes are having and work to help those who are experiencing a fun slump.
Sara Robinson is a Mental Skills Coach with a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. She resides in the Bay Area, Calif., but works with athletes and coaches all over the country to help improve their mental skills, communication habits and increase their enjoyment in sport. For more information visit: www.trainingthemind.com
Bowling Green football coach Mike Jinks on helping young athletes embrace roles, recognize responsibilities and be all in for the team
Dr. Jesse Michel, mental skills coordinator for the World Series Champion Houston Astros, on helping young athletes improve focus and concentration to perform at their best
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery on the importance of sending players home in a positive frame of mind
Olympic swimming great Dana Vollmer, winner of five gold medals, challenges coaches of all youth sports to find the most effective ways to motivate all their young athletes