The tremendous growth in organized youth sports has resulted in many positive outcomes for kids. Athletics creates an atmosphere that both supports and enhances what kids want and need. Surveys have revealed the top reasons why young people want to play organized sports:
- “I want to have fun.”
- “I want to do something I’m good at.”
- “I want to be with friends and make new ones.”
- “I want to get fit and stay in shape.”
- “I want to learn new skills and improve on existing ones.”
- “I want to play and participate as a member of a team.”
Coaches and parents should pay attention to these reasons, using them as the foundation for youth sports experiences. “Having fun” is at the top of the list and should be the focus of any athletic environment.
Note that winning does not make the top reasons for youth participation in organized sports. It consistently ranks toward the bottom on surveys that ask young people why they play sports. This surprises many adults who value outcomes – winning – more than the experience – fun, friends and fitness.
While being competitive and striving for excellence are an important part of athletics, sports provide many other teachable moments whose effects last longer than the temporary rush of victory. Learning how to accept defeat and exhibiting positive sportsmanship skills, especially in defeat, are valuable life lessons.
Coaches also need to put youngsters’ needs and wants ahead of their own. Coaches should ask themselves, “Am I doing everything possible to help kids meet their goals?” If the answer is “No,” they need to consider changing the focus of the athletic experience to meet their young athletes’ aspirations.
Parents and coaches need to work together and remind each other that kids join teams to have fun and be part of a team, not to win. Whether kids find their sporting experience positive and worth repeating depends on whether the adults in their lives really listen to them and ensure that fun, fitness and friends are the season’s priorities.
*Adapted from Competing with Character: Let’s Put Sportsmanship and Fun Back in Youth Sports, by Kevin Kush, M.A., with Michael Sterba, M.H.D., Boys Town Press.