What Happened to the FUN in Youth Sports?

fun /fən/

:enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure

Recently I was watching a high school soccer match and was surprised at the different levels of talent on the field.  It  was evident in the speed of play, first touch, and overall soccer acumen. Watching my kids play club soccer for so many years had altered my perspective, if you were not at the same level you either did not play or were moved to a lower team. This is the brutal reality of club sports.

As the game progressed, I noticed the fun the players were having on the field, and the relaxed parents in the stands. The intensity and pressure that is pervasive in a Saturday club soccer match was non-existent. After the game I asked my son about a few of his teammates. Each athlete’s story was different, their experience, club, how many sports they played. Experience varied from a Development Academy player to a 3rd team club player.  This was a reset for me, kids with different athletic ability and drive playing on the same field and having FUN.

It has been very easy to get caught up in the herd mentality and buy into  the underlying competitive nature in club sports.   Watching this game reminded me why kids play and why parents support their kids playing.  In the United States, 21.5 million youth between the ages of 6 to 17 play sports on a regular basis. Youth sports are an important part of each child’s development.  Unfortunately 70% of children involved in sports at a young age quit by the age of 13.

The opportunity for a few – play at a high level & college scholarships – has become the goal of many.

What happened to the FUN, playing multiple sports, unstructured (on the playground) with friends?

The goal should be simple; be your best, whatever your best is, have FUN and work with your teammates to get the W. As a season ends and a new one starts, make sure to hit the reset button and ask the following questions:

  • What is their motivation to improve?
  • What are their objectives? Is it personal growth, to be their best, recognition, a college scholarship?
  • Do they want to advance to the next team?

The answers to these questions will change season to season, but the one answer that should not change is the answer to this question.

Are they still having FUN?

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Joshua is married with three active children. He has experienced the good, the bad, and the politics of youth sports as a coach (12 years youth basketball coach) and a parent. All three kids have played soccer (Competitive, Development Academy, ECNL, High School) and basketball (Competitive & High School). Joshua is a co-founder at StriveFar, a marketplace connecting athletes with coaches for individual and small group training. Joshua has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver since 2008. Joshua holds an undergraduate degree in Communication from the University of Colorado and an MBA in IT from the University of Denver.

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