Why are children losing interest in playing sports - 1 reason
There is this huge misconception in sports that fun and competitiveness cannot exist side-by-side. One of the main reasons why children are losing interest in playing sports is that they feel the only point of playing sports is competing and winning and they can’t always meet these expectations.
Table of contents
- Why should children play sport?
- The foundation of any sport should be enjoyment.
- Preparing children to play sports. What’s the basics?
- Where does it all go wrong?
- Who’s game are we playing?
- It is about being in the moment
- How do we fix it? Bring back fun and take ownership!
- What is a coach?
- Sports parents and the family-sport-experience
Why should children play sport?
Sport is the key ingredient in providing healthy and happy children. The mental and physical benefits are endless.
Playing sport builds good character traits that will help your child to grow up happy and successful. As a child grows and develops, undertaking regular physical efforts build strength, confidence and resilience, qualities that will support them throughout life.
Playing sport could lead to establishing lifelong wellbeing and association with positive life choices for any child.
BUT, they need to enjoy it!!
The adults involved in sports for children, parents, coaches and administrators, have the responsibility to create an environment that serves the needs, values, and priorities of children.
The foundation of any sport should be enjoyment.
How we connect children to sports and fitness is of utmost importance. Ask any child between the age of 5 – 11 about their perception of playing sport and the overwhelming response will be; “it’s fun, it’s great spending time with my friends and it’s good for me”.
When playing a sport, they become ‘engaged athletes’, losing track of time, experiencing pleasure, satisfaction and joy. They are having fun…tons of it! Because of this, their hearts and minds are committed to the activity, their coach and their team…a sure recipe for success.
Preparing children to play sports. What's the basics?
Children participate in sport to have fun, make themselves feel good, improve skills, belong to a group, be successful, gain recognition, get fit, and find excitement. They need to feel wanted, valued, and joyful.
There is nothing wrong with competition and could be an amazing motivator and a lot of fun. This can only be successful if the structure and conditions are built on the development stage in the best interest of the child. It is about what children want and what they need, not about the adults!
Develop children as people primarily, not only as athletes. Focus on teaching the love of the sport first instead of learning the sport. Not all children will become elite athletes, but all of them have the potential to become healthy active adults. Steer away from the one-size-fits-all. Be inclusive and cater to all levels of abilities. Respect the effort, focus, and courage it takes for a child to play sports. Give them the respect they have earned simply for being present in the moment.
Where does it all go wrong? Why are teenagers quitting competitive sport?
One of the reasons kids are leaving organized competitive sport is because of how sport participation is measured. There is so much focus on sports performance which is a complex mixture of biomechanical functions, emotional factors, and training techniques.
They have lost ownership of the experience. How can we put the real owners, the children, and communities first when the path of sport is defined by politics, ratings, market share, and financial reward?
Unfortunately, the current path that’s made up of egomania and filthy lucre is a road to nowhere and both science and common sense tell us that is not going to end well.
We have a generation of children that have been pushed to pursue adult dreams instead of their own and they are saying no more!
Instead of being inclusive, many coaches and competitive sports leagues weed out children at an early age or do not devote adequate time or resources to children who do not possess the ability to be stars. They could be the late bloomers, but sadly at a time when they are most impressionable, children have to encounter feeling rejected and unwanted early in their lives.
Who's game are we playing? It's time to sit quiet and let the kids play!
We, the adults, coaches, sports administrators, officials and parents, more than anyone else are directly accountable for whether the sport our children play succeeds or fails. Today, youth sports are a billions-of-dollars industry, a huge responsibility of time and money for parents and their children resulting in more demand to perform and less fun for young athletes. Sports were meant to be developmental, but now it’s all about competition and winning.
Adults, It’s not about you – it’s all about the children and their dreams.
Dreaming is an act of bravery, giving children the imaginary believe being capable of anything, exactly what they need when they start dreaming about their future. It’s about every child and everyone who is interested in sport and who dreams of playing and competing. Kids are natural dreamers and only see hope and countless possibilities ahead of them.
Why not emphasize more on participation and less on competition, rigid rules, rankings and trophies? Our children’s effort is the only thing that’s completely within their control. The effort, not the result is what makes it a success or failure. If children have tried their best, they have been successful.
“We need to change what we’re doing and how we’re doing it from the first time they kick a ball, grab a bat, swim a stoke, run a lap” – (The Teenage Tumble)
It is about being in the moment
Athletes do not perform the activity for anyone or anything outside of themselves but do it for internal motivation. They enjoy doing it because it is theirs to enjoy and control, and it gives them a deep sense of deep inner satisfaction. For this they need three basic ingredients making playing sport a great experience and perform to the best of their abilities.
Self-directing freedom (Autonomy). Every child/athlete must have ownership over their sports experience. As coaches and parents, we can suggest some goals and encourage athletes to be more ambitious, but everything they chase after, their goals, playing the game must belong to them.
Put your children in the driving seat of their own destiny. For children to be able to thrive in this new age requires them to be original, independent thinkers, trusting their intuition and be courageous and daring.
Enjoyment is the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction children should experience when playing sport. There is this huge misconception by some that fun and competitiveness cannot exist side-by-side in sports. What a load of nonsense.
I’ve heard coaches telling 8-year-old athletes after a game they lost, ‘you are here to work, not to have fun’. Another coach told me that the fun part of the sport is when an athlete stands on the podium receiving a medal!
Not every single moment participating in sport has to be pleasurable. Hard and long training sessions, technique correction, etc are not always easy, but the experience as a whole should be fun. It must be something they look forward to doing for them to keep coming back.
Intrinsic Motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards, a reaction that arises from within the athlete resulting in satisfaction. Never bribe your children to perform and go over the top with external rewards.
Work and support them to become self-motivated. Not very easy to instill, but without it, your child may not have the willpower and resilience to train and participate in sport to the best of their abilities.
Having both autonomy and enjoyment in place, your child has a much better chance of being intrinsically motivated. It’s powerful and far more likely to result in an ongoing and sustained desire to continue with a successful behavior.
How do we fix it? Bring back fun and take ownership!
The main task of sporting administrators is to serve the sport and to understand that it’s all about people, considering, understanding, and connecting with them that is the key to success in sport. But the intense politics in sport, make it difficult for the good administrators, those who care and want to make a change to hold office.
Greed, individual self-interest, and holding on to power lead to failure. Where self-serving individuals hold power, good administrators tend to be the casualties and walk away from the sport.
National and provincial sporting administrators have NOT got all the answers and solutions to make sport successful! They are good at imposing rigid control and strict rules on our children and families.
Time to take back – It’s your children, money and time. The people, specifically amateur clubs, parents, and your children should take back the ownership of sport and the experience you are seeking. Start by creating sporting events in your own communities.
Partner with other clubs “where you can do what you want, whenever you want, where you want, the way you want, and with who you want” (Wayne Goldsmith) to play sport your way and have fun.
What is a coach?
A good coach provides an environment for athletes to improve and achieve their full potential physically, mentally, and emotionally. In other words, coaching the whole child. A trainer focuses on individuality and performance.
Sports coaches are also responsible for the guidance of the athlete in life and their chosen sport. It is helping them learn rather than teaching, assisting them to unlock their potential to optimize their performance.
Great coaches engage with athletes and inspire them. Good coaches spark their passion and can inspire and motivate athletes to believe that they are capable and stronger than they think. They help athletes to dream bigger than they’ve ever dreamed before and they create suitable conditions and the possibility for those dreams to become reality.
Good coaches realize that the sport they coach is just one thing and will take other sports, family, and school commitments into consideration in the increasingly hectically busy schedules of today’s households.
Good coaches will understand the three most important things to all parents are their children, valuable time, and hard-earned money.
Therefore all children should be the center of attention regardless of whether they are 6 or 16 years of age, making no difference if they’re training for fun or preparing for a national championship.
Remember the key ingredient, fun! Become aware of your athlete’s goals and don’t decide for them. Be in the moment, how things were done in your day is not how they are done now. Listen more than you lecture.
Good coaching involves a lot of listening, Let children talk allowing space for feelings through their ideas without feeling judged. Don’t criticize, but make sure the feedback you give is constructive and informative.
Good coaches manage their emotions. To deliver productive coaching, you need to model the behavior you want to see in your children. Be aware of your athlete’s limitations. Every child is different. Listening to your athletes and being aware of their characteristics can help ensure it’s a positive and fun experience for all.
To all coaches out there…please bring back the magic! Connect with parents and children and let the kids play.
Sports parents and the family-sport-experience
In a previous article, I wrote about the performance partnership where each of the 3 partners has a specific task. The coach, the athlete (child), and the parent.
In sport, parenting occurs in a diverse social environment where there is interaction with other parents, coaches, and children. Parents face challenging demands that require a collection of skills to smooth the path allowing positive sport experiences for their children.
Just try and be the best sports parent!
Be a positive influence by providing unconditional love, logistical and financial support. Cultivate independence and understanding, share your children’s goals, rather than imposing your own.
Build healthy relationships in your sports club and community. Support the coach and players, connect with other parents and offer assistance to the club. Make your own family-sport-experience a happy, healthy and enjoyable one.
Financial strain and time are key barriers to participation in sport. More local sports opportunities are needed where costs can be reduced. Schools and local clubs should work together to provide more affordable local opportunities to increase children’s participation in sport.
Instead of focusing on the positive physical and social outcomes, junior sport is simply seen as a production line to the top end. Stop the obsession from sporting bodies and schools putting young athletes under pressure to specialize early in a chosen sport, where they are subjected to heavy training loads and those that aren’t identified as talented fall out the bus, believing sport isn’t for them destroying their dreams and self-esteem.
We, the parents, coaches, caring officials, and your local communities can make the difference. Let’s secure a happy, fun-filled, and long-lasting sporting environment for our children.