Making Youth Sport FUN Again.
8 ways to make youth sports more fun.
The benefits of youth sports participation: better physical and mental health, better social skills, improved problem solving, increased ability in dealing with challenges just to name a few.
Impact of lack of participation in youth sports include: reduced physical and mental health, reduced self esteem, fewer social skills.
WHY do kids get involved in youth sports?
HOW can adults support the reasons for youth sport participation?
Let’s explore 8 ways to insert FUN into youth sport experiences.
The JOY of playing is at the root of sport participation. From a very young age, the magic of kicking and/or hitting a ball, putting the ball into the net or preventing same are second to none. The exhilaration from running, moving, changing direction, speeding up and discovering the magic of swimming or any other activity can not be duplicated.
At the core of youth sports participation is having FUN. With the decline in participation, once can assume that many are not having FUN.
HOW do we make youth sport fun again?
For the under 10 years old age bracket:
1. Discover through PLAY.
Create as many opportunities as possible to run, jump, throw, catch, swim, ski, speed up, slow down, skate, twist, turn, chase and be chased, dodge, tumble and roll, skip, hit a ball (moving and not moving), balance, kick.
Does not matter what it is , the more variety the better. Organized and structured activity has its place but can not the only outlet for play.
This is where schools covered basic movement skills in the past, but is no longer common.
Something in this realm should occur everyday!
PLAY different activities. Avoid sports specialization at a young age. Dodgeball, floor hockey, stickball, touch football, capture the flag, hide and seek, bicycle riding, skateboarding, rollerblading, skipping rope and hopscotch were staple activities years ago, and none of them organized as part of a team.
Eventually kids will gravitate to the activities they enjoy the most or simply develop an appreciation and love of moving.
In today’s world, these activities can be structured. Neighborhood play is not common. If that is the case, seek out structure that promotes physical literacy.
Great example of this is the good work of Coach Jeremy Frisch https://twitter.com/JeremyFrisch
Using a physical education approach, play through lead up games provides a base for youth sport literacy.
There are resources at your fingertips to support this objective.
Resource for coaches: https://physedgames.com/
Keeping it fun: ages 10-14. In addition to the above:
2. Integrate challenges and lead in games.
Challenge your athletes with a 20 yard sprint. Don’t race vs others, but time and track. Leader board is a challenge. Create leader boards based on body time or position.
Warm up with games other than targeted sport. For example, baseball warm up with soccer or handball. Soccer players warm up with tag or capture the flag.
From Coach Erica Suter:
3. Join an organization with strong core values.
Last week’s edition shared the story of Stanley Stick Hockey Association, how they have led with the core values of having a positive culture, developing a lifelong love of sports, and inclusion since 1975. Find an organization that is clear with their objectives and core values.
Keeping it fun ages 14 and up. All of the above apply, and:
4. Teach the HOW in skill development.
It sounds over simplified, however, coaching involves teaching the HOW of the skills required for success.
How to field a ground ball or hit a baseball. How to turn, stop, speed up and slow down. How to accurately throw a ball and safely catch one.
As coaches, if we don’t teach them the fundamentals, who will?
And this applies to all ages. Practice those fundamentals.
As young athletes get older, they may need more time focusing on mental approach to the game.
The age and skill level will determine how we can help our athletes get better, but skipping over skill improvement opportunities is more common than one would think.
5. Spike Ball (also known as Round Net): Applies to 10 and over really. Have seen this used with professional athletes as a warm up. There is even a professional league and this is quickly becoming one of the hippest inclusive games going for all ages.
Google “spike ball” or “roundnet ball” and you will find tons of resources. The basic equipment is inexpensive and readily available online.
Every high school and youth sports organization should use spike ball to support practice time. it supports all of the skill development mentioned above and is FUN!
This is a youth sports tournament weekend favorite during down time, gets practice off to a flying start, warm everyone up and gets that positive culture going via team building and friendly competition while developing all the physical skills mentioned above
6. Develop and highlight the power of strength and conditioning.
For any parent or organization to fully be committed to athlete development, strength and conditioning is your first stop.
Strength and conditioning is the practice of preparing the body for and recovering from the demands of the sport.
It is more than weight training and running laps.
Strength and conditioning regularly will improve self confidence and performance while reducing risk of injury.
Do not skimp on strength and conditioning coaching.
7. Spent time highlighting the journey.
Performance anxiety can comes from an outcome focused approach and feeling pressure to please others.
A process driven approach to youth sport, even at competitive levels, highlights the power of continuous development over time. A youth athlete does not improve simply by trying harder, but by consistently practicing the appropriate skills that will lead to exceeding the demands of the sport.
It is always astounding to see coaches and parents yell: “try harder” or “run faster” during competition. Not a big help!
The journey to development and physical literacy can be rooted in the fun, if the lead up activities are fun.
The definition of success in youth sport goes beyond wins and losses. It is in developing good people. The understanding the value of hard work, of dealing with challenges, consistent skill development and practice, of monitoring progress via other metrics than just wins and losses are the cornerstones to developing good members of society.
8. Create a positive culture.
As athletes get older, dealing with disappointment can be more challenging, but it applies to all ages where athletes chose to compete. Competing is a minimal sum game.
Very few competitive athletes end up winning, most have losses at some point, therefore the positive experience becomes the anchor to having fun.
The 19 year-old college athlete may have never experienced disappointment before or needs new skills to keep progressing. Creating a positive culture around the organization and team starts with the coach and rolls through the assistance and the teammates, then to parents.
· How does the coach and teammates react to a player performance when it does not go as planned?
· How does the athlete find silver lining in the journey when outcome not what hoped for?
· How do your athletes treat opponents and officials when things do not go as planned? or when they do?
Winning with humility and taking losses in stride are skills that seem to be found less and less on the playing field.
Positive culture and inclusion makes sport participation more fun. This is taught and learned from organizational leadership and coaches.
Of course, there are many more than 8 ways to make youth sports more fun.
The call to organizational volunteers, coaches, parents and officials: how can we make youth sports more fun?
By simply asking that question, means we are almost there.
Let’s not forget the FUN part.
If you enjoyed this week’s email, please share it with other coaches, parents, young athletes and volunteers.
The Physical Movement is a growing community of those wanting the best for those who give so much to youth sports. Every addition helps!