Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fun? You Call this Fun?

No, this is not another article decrying organized youth sports for being too competitive and adult-driven. It's not about how organized sports can sometimes suck all of the fun out of a young athlete's experience in youth sports. And it's not yet another newsworthy tale of a parent behaving badly at their son or daughter's game.

Instead, I'm going to discuss the meaning of fun and how it applies to youth sports.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fun as "what provides amusement or enjoyment." Another dictionary of mine defines fun as "lively, joyous play or playfulness." These both represent descriptions of an activity that generates a feeling within an individual. But is one person's fun, as it relates to playing sports, the same as another person's?

Different Flavors
The truth is that the word “fun” has different meanings. Fun has an elastic quality. Its nature can change depending on a person's mood and his or her expectations for participation. It's meaning sometimes changes based on group dynamics—the type of participants and the way in which they interact.

There is the relaxed, non-directed play that I sometimes refer to as “running around and picking daisies.” This form of play is all about the running, laughing, relaxed camaraderie, and simple animal joy that children experience when they move and release energy. Everyone has seen a group of kids playing an “organized” sport in their backyard or street and watched as the game devolves into giggling, exaggerated one-on-one battles, wild shots, “new rules,” and running after each other. These children are enjoying the “picking daisies” form of fun.

There is also the type of fun that is embodied in a more structured, competitive activity. This “running around” is more directed, set against an opposing force, and produces a more complex set of emotions that many children will also describe as “fun.” The competitive aspect of this more intense play provides a challenge which often spurs a superior, sometimes undreamed level of performance. “Fun” is experienced in a joyous individual or team moment where all the parts perfectly come together in that instant of time. Learning a new skill, and how to better compete, leads to an exhilarating “fun” feeling of greater self esteem and confidence. Preparing for, and reaching a shared team goal [think celebrating a championship] is “fun.” These forms of fun are especially appealing to older children who seek a richer experience in sports.

Fun and Organized Youth Sports
Having played sports for my entire life and coached youth basketball for a good part of it, I sometimes hear a parent or administrator casually say, “We’re just out here to run around and have some fun.” Yes, in some situations, that observation is dead-on—but not in most instructional youth sports programs with games and practices. The person who says, “Let’s just have fun,” does not grasp the essence of the goals pursued by a good youth sports coach. Most coaches (along with players and knowledgeable parents) want more.

Although “picking daisies” is always part of youth sports, children can easily find this form of fun in unstructured neighborhood games and other play activities. Reach for something more in the youth sports programs you select for your child. Find ones that combine good instruction with an age-appropriate dose of relaxed fun. Help your child appreciate the richer forms of fun.

Copyright © 2010-2012 by Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved

The Joy of Youth Sports
If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Barry Tarter [EXACT Sports] said...


Great article -- You bring up some very interesting points that seem to get overlooked by the media and by parents. I agree that the "fun" in sports and the "development" that arises from participation do not need to be enemies.

I've seen the joy in thousands of youth athletes that have learned to master a new skill such as how to use goal-setting to reduce game anxiety.

I've just subscribed and looking forward to reading more of your blog articles.



Kevin Holleran said...

I agree with Barry on this Jeff, nicely done. You can have fun, but still have structure. Some people lose site of this. As a youth coach I know I have succeeded when I have the kids from last year want to play again for me this year. We don't always, win, but we are competitive, that is also part of the fun.

The best experience as a coach I had was 6-7 years ago. A kid who was not very skilled in fielding (baseball)worked hard and I put him in positions to build confidence. It was near the end of the season, he caught a ball playing second base and was able to pull off a double play. His smile was etched on my memory forever. All the kids were jumping on him and high fiving, he was so proud. That is all it takes to keep it fun, not always winning, but feeling like you belong and being part of the team.

We as parents and coaches sometimes lose site of the little things in sports. Like fun, enjoyment, being part of something. Your Blog and your book has put that into perspective again for me as both a youth coach and parent.

Thank you for sharing your experience and your insight. Keep up the good work and playing a positive role in so many young peoples lives. You make a difference!


Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

Thanks Kevin for your comment and support. That smile you refer to is one of the best rewards for a youth coach. And when you see your kids celebrating a less-talented teammate's heroic moment, you know you're on the right path.

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