According to an article published in The Washington Post, 70% of kids quit sports by age 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”
Reality is that as kids age, the level of competition gets more intense. Suddenly, the goal is no longer to have fun but to win. As the pressure builds for the child, they start to feel more and more unhappy, gradually detaching from the sport emotionally.
The problem is that many leagues still support a sports culture that to get to the next level in sports also means intensifying the need to win. What many associations don’t realize is that the majority kids at this age aren’t yet thinking about college scholarships or professional contracts.
When leagues put too much emphasis on competition, kids ultimately pay the price. For this reason, we need to get back to the root of why kids join sports in the first place so they can continue to enjoy all the physical, social, and physiological benefits that come with sports participation.
Here’s how to coach kids to make winning secondary to having fun when playing sports:
One Skill at a Time
Coaches who try to teach multiple skills all at once are obviously getting ahead of themselves and already preparing for game day. They don’t realize how overwhelming it is for kids who feel pressured to master all these techniques at once.
Instead, introduce one skill at a time. Ensure each kid gets a chance to try new methods. Encourage them to support each other. Tell them what they will learn at the next practice, so they have something to look forward to.
Coaches, even with their best intentions, start to lose themselves when they worry that a kid is not competition-ready. When you worry less about winning, you focus more on ensuring the kid has a positive experience. Keep everyone’s spirits up by being encouraging. Be cheerful when you see they are making an effort; stay optimistic even when you see them struggle or make a mistake. Let them know it’s ok to fail and reassure them it’s ok to try again. Excitement can be infectious.
Focus on What Matters
We all know coaches who take things far too seriously. When you remember that sports are meant to be fun, you change the narrative from “win-at-all-costs” to “have-fun-at-all-costs.” Know each child and guide them to achieving their personal best. Teach them not to compare themselves to their peers or competition regularly.
Equal Playing Time
Giving each child the opportunity to play on game day is perhaps one of the best ways to show you’re not all about winning. Too many coaches only play their most skilled athletes when competing with other teams. However, not involving all kids during competition tells them that you worry more about winning than you do about including everyone on the team.
When you coach with your young athletes’ best interest at heart, you naturally coach to play for fun. You know that one of the reasons kids emphasize on winning is that they see that the scoreboard matters in professional sports. Remind them that before they need to worry about that, they first must to enhance their skills, make new friends, learn how to play as a team, and above all, have fun.