The steady decline of participation in youth sports isn’t a secret. And there’s no single reason kids no longer flock to play like they once did. But for many children, the reason is simple. Playing in a youth sports program is not fun. It may have been fun at first, but somewhere along the line the simple joy of physical activity and sharing with teammates became lost. What can parents and coaches do to bring the fun back to youth sports?
The reasons kids lose interest in sports varies, but an i9 Sports survey provides some surprising answers. The survey of 300 youth sports participants ranging in age from 8-14 found that 84 percent either wanted to quit at the time of the survey or have wanted to quit in the past. Even more shocking was the fact that the topmost reason most kids began playing in the first place was to have fun. But 47 percent said that’s exactly what they weren’t having.
Why no fun? Many of the respondents reported they had at some point watched their parents and coaches in a verbal dispute during a game. And nearly a third wished the adults in their lives weren’t at the game at all. In other words parents — you’re often the cause. Here’s how to fix it.
Your Fun or Mine?
Children are a resilient bunch. Without outside influences, most of them shrug off a blowout defeat and move quickly on. Many parents, on the other hand, look at losing differently. They worry losing takes the fun out of it for their child. They may worry about their child’s loss of confidence. And they may be vocal about their concerns in front of their children.
“Your idea of fun and your child’s could very well be worlds apart. As a parent, it’s your job to support and enjoy watching your child play, win or lose.”
— Alex Perdikis
If you place emphasis on winning and losing, so will your child. And there goes the fun. And there goes one of the priceless life lessons playing sports brings — learning to deal with loss and the strength to get back up and try again.
Who’s the Coach?
Picture this — you’re the kid playing soccer. Your coach pulls you aside and tells you one thing. You run back on the field and hear Dad yell. And guess what? He’s telling you to do exactly the opposite of what the coach just told you. You’re 8 years old. Who do you listen to?
Parents who coach from the sidelines place unnecessary pressure on their kids. Added pressure and conflicting loyalties is a sure-fire way to destroy enjoyment.
Likewise, don’t analyze aspects of the game or your child’s play on the ride home or any other time for that matter. Avoid bad mouthing the coach. A great question to ask on the ride home is “Did you have fun today?” Leave it at that.
Be the Great Parent
The best teacher your child will ever have is you. Even if you say all the right things, your child will follow what you do, not what you say. Be a great role model. Treat the coaches and players with respect. Never undermine the coach’s authority or depth of knowledge. If you have an issue with the coach, set up a private meeting to discuss it without your child’s presence.
Together, you and your child can make youth sports the fun and healthy activity it’s meant to be.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.