The Importance of FUN in Sports by Sara Robinson, MA
Having fun – it seems so simple, and it may be surprising to hear that fun is what made the difference for Michael Phelps in his ﬁnal Olympic Games. Fun is the reason many of our youth athletes begin playing sports, and sadly, lack of fun is one of the most often reported reasons why athletes leave sports. Many athletes end up quitting their sport at the onset of adolescence when other areas of life take on more importance, and if sports are no longer fun, they likely won’t want to stay.
Coaches have the ability to help sports remain fun, even when the level of competition becomes more serious and gets tougher. Here are a few ideas to help your athletes continue to have fun:
Encourage athletes to set their own goals. Motivation is higher when athletes have a sense of control over what they are working on. Allow athletes to have some say in how practices are run.
You are the coach, and you can remain in control, but perhaps an athlete chooses one drill at the end of practice, or give them two choices and they can vote on which one they prefer.
Similar to setting goals, athletes will be more motivated and have more fun when they have a say in what goes on.
Praise effort and improvement, and spread positive reinforcement equally amongst your athletes. When athletes see that they are making progress, they are likely to be more inclined to continue to work harder and want to see more improvement; if they are mostly told what they’re doing wrong, this can take away the fun.
Notice if your athletes smile and laugh, or if they regularly look less than happy.
You can have athletes who not only take training seriously, but do so in an environment with laughter and fun. Maybe you plan team outings or team dinners, or celebrate birthdays on the ﬁeld after practice. Find ways to help your team enjoy spending time together.
Ask yourself: Am I having fun? If you aren’t, chances are this will affect how you are coaching your team. Find ways to have fun when you coach; talk with your assistant coaches or fellow coaches and think about how you and your athletes can have fun on the ﬁeld. Michael Phelps’ coach works hard but you can tell by watching him that he enjoys what he does.
Athletes who have fun and enjoy their experiences in sport will often stay involved longer than those who do not have fun on a regular basis. Getting to the Olympics, or high levels of sport performance, certainly requires more than just having fun, but chances are if the fun is lost then the athlete may not stay involved long enough to find out just how far he or she can go. Michael Phelps knows how important it is to “just have fun” and coaches are a great resource for helping athletes find and maintain fun as they train, prepare and compete.
Sara Robinson, MA, is a Mental Skills Coach with a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. She works with parents, coaches and athletes ages 8-18 to teach the mental skills necessary for sport and life. To receive her quarterly newsletter or for more information, visit www.trainingthemind.com or email Sara_SportPsych@hotmail.com.