Prioritizing fun in youth sports helps kids stay safe, learn more, and go farther
Every semester we see a growing increase in interest and participation in youth sports programs for kids of all ages. Younger children are starting to look at sports as a way to make friends and have fun. While you and educators like us often focus on the health benefits (physical and mental), we must foster the desire for fun. Let’s keep that in mind when encouraging children to get active.
Parental support of fun and play are proven to keep your child more engaged and excited about youth sports. That’s regardless of the sport or their ability level. Work with your school, coaches, and programs like ActivStars. Together, we’ll foster a love of the game that’s fun and builds a healthy foundation for the rest of their life.
Students play sports to have fun
As parents and educators, we like to think of all the benefits for children and youth who engage in sports like karate, soccer, and cheerleading. Things that come to mind are keeping our kids safe after school and on the weekends, away from the wrong crowd. Plus, it helps develop motor skills, keeps them fit and healthy, improves how well they work in teams, and can even help them do better in school.
It turns out that our kids have something else in mind: fun.
A long list of studies and surveys and interviews, like this one from The New York Times, show that children and students play sports to have fun, not to be the best and win all the time or gain scholarships. Regardless of age, gender, and the sport they choose to play, “kids are out there to get away from their lives and have a good time with their friends.”
So, in the spirit of listening, we wanted to take a quick look at some of the core concepts of fun and what you might be able to do as parents to ensure that your star is happy.
An enjoyable time keeps kids engaged longer
An important note for us getting started is that the pursuit of fun can have direct positive benefits for your child. This isn’t a flight of fancy or a whim. It’s a way to build a life-long love of sports and activity that will help your child grow and age properly — especially if they develop habits that continue when they become parents too.
Having fun with a sport or activity helps your child do it longer. Given that 70% of kids quit youth sports by age 13, we must listen to each child to keep them engaged. Many say they left because the focus was all on winning and placed significant pressure on them. They didn’t see any of the fun benefits or other educational and safety opportunities.
If your child is out on the field to have fun, the pressure of competition can force them out.
Sports psychologist Justin Anderson of Premier Sport Psychology also says that letting your youth athlete have fun and enjoy the sports they play will help them do better and learn more. “Kids are there to learn, and they can’t do it in a negative or stressful environment.”
When they’re having fun, they want to train and play more and may even perform at higher levels because they don’t worry that a coach, parent, or another adult will be mad at them for a mistake. It keeps their self-confidence high, says Anderson.
The role of parents in fun and sport
The part of parents in youth sports enjoyment is to help your child find what they enjoy and to encourage them to participate in a safe activity and environment.
A large-scale study on youth sports found a few things we think are worth sharing:
- Your child’s perception of your support and your belief that sports will have positive benefits impact how much they want to participate. Your encouragement plays a more prominent role than almost any other factor, including whether or not you play sports or do another exercise.
- Parents who express the importance of activity have more active children. This is seen in parents of children of all types and ability.
- Your positive attitude about participating (think of it as empowering instead of prioritizing winning) is shown to increase how much your child enjoys sports and can decrease sports-related stress.
Parents play a crucial role in creating an environment for their child to enjoy youth sports. You also play a role in how much fun other children on your child’s team have.
At the same time, parents are the most significant protection system a child has. You are the best to prevent abuse by anyone, from coaches and medical staff to other parents and people outside of sports. To be your child’s best protector, the study suggests you ask questions of everyone involved.
Have that conversation
Speak to sports program providers like us. Talk to other parents. Engage guidance counselors and teachers. We don’t need to tell you that, you already know it. What ActivStars is saying here is that you have a right to ask questions and get answers.
Smart questions to ask for any youth program include:
- How do you hire? Does everyone have references and a background check?
- How do you teach coaches and staff to look for and prevent abuse?
- Do you have a code of conduct for staff as well as students?
- What are your specific rules for communicating with students and parents?
- Are the facilities you use well-maintained and safe?
- What do you expect a parent to do?
We want to give you those answers. So, we’re always open to your questions. Ask your coaches directly or reach out to us here.