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Sport for fun and enjoyment?  What is the world coming to?

“The main reason children and young people leave sport is that they no longer enjoy it”, Project Play Aspen Institute, Colorado

“The junior section must become better at preparing the best players for senior football”, first team coach at a low-ranked UK football club.

Mid May 2021, UK-based Sport + Recreation Alliance released research that showed junior memberships of UK sports clubs fell by 67% during the lockdown, with a projected return at almost 30% less than pre-pandemic levels.  In the same period did we see a 10% increase in walking and 3% rise in cycling among children and young people…social exercise without coaches!

In the USA in 2018, only 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played team sports regularly, down from 45% in 2008, according to separate research from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The National Youth Sport Survey, commissioned by Aspen Institute through its Project Play initiative, digs deeper into the reasons why participation has declined while extending the analysis of youth up to age 18 and at all competitive levels (recreational, club, high school).

Parents believe their kids are having fun…

They reported their children experience high levels of enjoyment from sports. But they also said most have at least a moderate level of stress, with field hockey and lacrosse scoring as the most stressful sports for kids. The least stressful were skiing/snowboarding, track and field, skateboarding and soccer. When asked to rate what sources their child feels pressure from in sports, parents pointed the most to coaches. For what it’s worth, parents say they apply less pressure than their child’s peers.

Football News Father pushes his son so he can make a save

(Pushy parents? Never!) Father pushes his son so he can make a save

In the US 62% of young people leave sport because it is no longer fun, a percentage which increases to 69 for teenage girls.

Now spend a couple of minutes watching these two videos,

 
I hope they scare and motivate you, in equal measures

You can watch the videos below

Young people leave sport because it is no longer fun

The #1 reason kids quit is that sport is no longer fun…

In a 2014 study for George Washington University, researcher Amanda Visik interviewed numerous youth athletes and asked them why they played sports, and 9 out of 10 said the #1 reason they played was it was fun!

The children in the George Washington study defined fun as trying their best, being treated respectfully by coaches, parents and teammates, and getting playing time.

They listed eighty-one characteristics of fun, and winning (#48), playing tournaments (#63) and practising with private trainers (#66) did not finish high     on the list.

We need to figure out why they discontinue, not just that they do. For kids, two years in a sport may seem like forever, while we as adults think they should continue for much longer. We need to frame it through the interpretive lens of adolescence.”
The key is that kids don’t move to the couch so that they stay physically active. Most youths do not get the recommended levels of one hour of daily physical activity.

Grassroots football and camaraderie created the football miracle in a small town in Norway.

Erling Braut Haaland is a  Norwegian sensation in international football arenas and is likely to join one of the top Premiership clubs for a £100m+ fee. But five of his teammates from Bryne, just outside Oslo, (pop. 12000) have also become professional football players.
Grassroots football and camaraderie are some of the keys to the success of Bryne. But sensible coaches have also played an important role. The coaches have focused both on social interactions between the players and football skills development. All the players were given football challenges suited to their level.

So, fun and enjoyment don’t preclude the identification and development of talent

So, what do we all about this? How do we install and support a culture of fun and enjoyment across community sport?
One thing we have realised that (too?) many coaching programmes focus on technique and tactics and pay very little attention to the issues we are addressing here. If you want more people to play and enjoy your sport, maybe creating fun and enjoyment would be a good place to start.

Here, at SMN we are developing various initiatives, including our innovative Football For Fun programme and also our Engage and Activate programme for Physical Activity and Public Health Practitioners.

If you want to learn more, let’s have a chat.