The third pillar of Coach Chris Sports is the most important: Have Fun! It sounds simple and, in many ways it is, but there is more to it than meets the eye. The ultimate goal of any youth sports program should be that the participants have fun. Period. Sports = Fun or it doesn’t work. If your child is having fun in a program you will typically know it just on parental instinct. But since “having fun” means different things to different people, it can sometimes be tricky to know if they are truly enjoying their participation. Of course, trying your best and learning (the first two parts of the series) make up a big part of the equation that sets your child up for “fun” but how do you know for sure? AND How can you help facilitate their enjoyment or FUN? In my experience, there are a few key things that demonstrate true enjoyment or “fun”.
They want to play all the time:
“All my child wants to do now is play basketball” I loved hearing this. It usually came from the parent of a child new to the game. Maybe they were nervous at first, maybe they just had never played before but once they were coached and started having success, they could not put the ball down. Dribbling at home, shooting until the after dark in the backyard and wanting to take their ball with them everywhere they went. Awesome! Just for the record, my response was usually “Well, I can think of many things much worse than basketball that they could want to do all the time”. If they want to play all the time, they are enjoying it! So unless they are damaging themselves or damaging someone’s property (breaking things in the garage) encourage them and give them space to PLAY!
They make it a priority/sacrifice for it:
Kids, just like adults will make excuses to get out of something they don’t want to do. They might feign an illness to get out of a test, procrastinate to not do homework or “forget” to take out the trash. But there are certain things they won’t miss and if their practice or game is one of them, then they are on the right track. This is a clear-cut sign they are having fun and, as a parent should be used to your advantage. Create clear cut requirements for them to play and hold them to it. Don’t let them practice if they don’t finish their homework. Low grades, messy room or missed chores, no practice or game for them. This is a valuable lesson that will benefit them their entire lives: get your work done and take care of your responsibilities before you play. If they are having FUN they will sacrifice for it.
It sounds simple but this might be the best measure. Children have less ability or need to suppress or mask their feelings so they often wear their emotions on their sleeve. Watch them before during and after the game or practice, if you see smiles, it a wonderful sign. You can help by smiling back! Match their energy and enthusiasm for whatever sport it is they enjoy and whatever the outcome on the scoreboard, above all else, make it clear that you love watching them play. When they talk about the game afterward or the next day and are still noticeably happy, that’s a WIN!
They Dig Deeper Into More Aspects of the game, on their own:
If your child is watching videos online, asking to read books or wanting to know more about the sport they are playing that is a clear sign that they are enjoying it. This shows they are interested, engaged and want to improve. If this is the case with your child – FEED THEIR INTEREST. It will only help their passion grow if you also dive in and learn with them. Maybe you don’t have a lot of knowledge about baseball but your child has developed a serious interest in the game, then you should develop one too. Learning together can only help them to grow and help your relationship with them. You don’t have to become an expert but showing that you are interested in learning will go a long way AND if you want to help make your child feel extra awesome, ask YOUR CHILD questions and make them the teacher. Doing this will help them to feel like they are the expert and help them gain confidence.
They really, truly pay attention and recall:
A standard practice in coaching or teaching is to do a short review of the previous session/lesson whenever a new session is started. This allows the “mental table” to be set for new information building on the previous session. I would always ask the kids some review questions from the previous class, game or practice to see what they remembered. If many hands were going up ready with answers then I had a group who was engaged, eager and having fun! If your child is recalling things from previous lessons on a consistent/regular basis then they are paying attention, recalling and HAVING FUN!
They want to do it again regardless of previous outcomes:
Everyone kid wants to show up and play when things are going well but what about when things are not going so well. When I was running leagues we went through a painstakingly arduous process to create as much league parity as possible but it was never perfect. We would have teams who would only win one game or get blown out multiple times in a season but those kids kept coming back season after season. That was one of my proudest accomplishments that regardless of the outcome of their games, kids still wanted to come back and play in leagues that I was involved with. Why because they were having fun! If your child has a rough season and still wants to play the next time around then do everything you can to make it happen.
So they aren’t into it now what?:
If they aren’t having fun there could be a variety of reasons why. It is important to dig in and find out why, exactly, they aren’t enjoying the experience. If they truly don’t enjoy game or activity, no amount of pressure or coercion will change that. Be open to waiting a season or two to reintroduce the sport or trying different sports until you find one (hopefully multiple) that THEY truly enjoy (not one you think they should like). Once you find it, stick with it, support it and be 100% involved. The popularity of non-big three sports (football, baseball, basketball) is growing rapidly so activities like badminton, table tennis, flag football, ninja warrior and Ultimate Frisbee are examples of sports/activities that are more popular than ever. Whatever sport they choose to play make sure they have fun! The more fun they have the longer they will play.
Kids, for the most part, wear their emotions on their sleeves if they are upset, happy, sad or feeling anything else, they can’t hide it. If your child is having fun you should be able to tell but if not the signs mentioned above should be good indicators. Remember, the two goals of youth sports: development and fun, are very intertwined. The better someone is at something, the more they will enjoy it, learning and improving will promote continued participation!
Feel free to reach out to Chris@coachchrissports.com with any questions, comments or topic ideas.
Learning is a process and it is different for everyone. There are different types of learners with these being the four basic categories: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. I am not going to go into every type in detail because that is not the goal of this article but I thought it was worth mentioning. Good coaches are teachers first and teachers have a very difficult job: they must take a group of students from multiple numbers of backgrounds and experiences, get them in one room/place and try to get them all to learn the same material. Now add to that mix the fact that these students are also all in the middle of their physical, emotional and mental development and you get an extremely difficult task. The truth is that you can’t tailor your coaching (or teaching) to each individual, that’s impossible. However, there several things that can be done in coaching that will allow you to have the most impact/success in getting your message across to ALL your youth sports athletes.
Have a routine:
Routines are crucial we, as adults, have them and use them every day. They help us to focus, stay comfortable, transition and prepare our minds for whatever lies ahead. When they become disrupted, we feel “off” and likely don’t function as well. Playing youth football it was two laps as soon as the coach set foot on the field. Laps completed, our warm-ups started, then we moved on. In a classroom, children may sit on the rug as soon as they return from recess. After a week or so of repetition, they do this automatically and it tells their brain “recess is over, time to focus in the classroom now, get ready to learn”. These do take time to establish but once they are established they do wonders for the ability of your students/athletes to learn and absorb information. And they don’t have to be complicated either but they do have to be executed with almost 100% CONSISTENCY, especially early on, to have the desired effect.
Keep it simple (three steps, maybe four)/ROY G. BIV:
When coaching young athletes, ideas and movements have to be broken down as simply and succinctly as possible. If an activity or an idea has more than three steps (maybe four) that need explaining all at once that’s too many. Example: In teaching a child to throw a baseball I would say “Arm up, step opposite, throw, follow through”. Later you can dig into detail but breaking down the main steps in a simple, direct manner, is key. It’s also important whenever possible to use mnemonic devices like ROY G BIV (colors of the rainbow) or creating a little song or jingle (like the ABC song). These little devices are fun and are extremely effective at helping them to retain and recall information.
Tell, Show, Do, Review, (Write it down):
Let’s say you want each child to dribble a basketball to the other side of the court touch the wall and then come back. Sounds simple to us but for kids, there can be confusion, even with a direction this simple. So the first step would be to tell them “dribble to the wall touch it and come back”. Step two: You (or someone else) demonstrate it and show them exactly what it is they are expected. Step Three, have them do it and correct it as necessary. At the end of the drill or end of the practice be sure to review what you learned and have them write down what they did. It sounds crazy to have them writing at a sports practice but this will help them recall, visualize and, in the end, retain/recall more information.
The fundamentals should be focused on the most, no question but you can’t ONLY work on fundamentals, you do need to challenge the kids to keep it interesting, so they stay engaged. The pace of the progression is key. Progress to fast and they fail at more difficult skills because they don’t have the fundamentals mastered. Progress to slow and they get bored and lose interest and focus because they aren’t being challenged enough and it gets old. I would rather progress too slow than too fast, why? Because it is much harder to have them exposed to “cooler/new” advanced skills and then try to bring them back to work on the basics than it is to hold them back a little longer, make sure they are ready to advance, let them build that desire for the advanced skill and then let them loose to learn it.
Give them a chance for feedback/questions:
It is always a good idea to hear the children’s thoughts and give them a chance to offer their feedback. This way they are engaged and they are being heard and even kids like to be heard. While we want their input, we don’t want to get into the endless: “why? why? why?” situation as that becomes counterproductive. To avoid that, I would set guidelines of “I will only take two questions” or “I am only taking questions directly related to what we learned today”. If they do offer questions that seem silly to you but are asked sincerely then give them a sincere, well thought out answer. I once had a child ask me why you got more points for making a shot from behind the three-point line. While the answer was obvious to me, he honestly did not know, so I took it seriously and answered him directly and sincerely.
Give them homework:
I don’t mean writing an essay but give them something small to do before the next time you practice. If you are playing soccer ask them to practice dribbling the ball for five minutes a day on their own and record it on their phone or IPAD as proof. Ask them to research famous great players or give them vocabulary specific to your sport that they need to look up and learn. Or even a simple three-question take home trivia: “Who is the all-time time goal scorer in the world cup history?” “Which country has the most world cup titles?” “How many do they have?” and offering them a little prize or reward for completing the task, all but guarantees they do it. Little “homework” assignments like this help keep them engaged when they are not actually on the field.
Coaches/teachers all have their styles and tricks that they use to communicate the content to their students. If you are coaching or working with kids for any amount of time you will develop your methods and habits for communicating the information, which is part of what will make you a successful coach. Showing your personality and making the content your own will help build a bond with your students/players and only enhance the effect you will have on their youth sports experience. The six tools listed above are not the “end all be all” of coaching but they are tools that are very basic and foundational to successful teaching/coaching and can help you in your coaching.
I am always interested in feedback so if you have any thoughts on this or any of my posts, please leave a comment or email: firstname.lastname@example.org