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Fun has so Many Different Meanings

Fun. Or lack of fun is apparently why kids are quitting sports. I won't get into the specifics of the surveys and reports but everyone is (or claims to be) focused on making sure kids are having fun in youth sports. Many have written articles on this topic but none (at least from what I have read) have actually defined what "Fun" means. They simply regurgitate the fact that data shows kids are quitting because they are not having "Fun".

I have coached many kids through the years, ranging from 6-year-olds to Collegiate players; and I can say that the definition of "Fun" is different for so many of them. Here are some of the various ways in which we can define "Fun":

  1. Fun through seeing improvement: Kids enjoy seeing the positive results of their hard work. They want to get better and they attain fulfillment when they hit the ball farther; or throw the ball harder; or make plays they never made before. They are usually the hardest working players on the field as they strive for greatness.

  2. Fun by becoming just good enough: Some players simply want to become just "good enough" so that they don't embarrass themselves on the field. They enjoy making the simple plays; making contact at the plate; and knowing what to do when the ball is hit to them. They may not want to work harder because frankly, they may not like to work hard. They don't need to shine or be the star player. They enjoy being out on the field and will continue to enjoy it as long as they can "hold their own".

  3. Fun through social fulfillment: These are the players that want to be at practices or games because they enjoy being around other kids. It's not that the kids from the previous two groups don't enjoy the social aspect of the sport; but the social aspect is this group's main reason for participation. They are not primarily concerned w/skill improvement so they may experience more failure than the others. As they get older, the repeated failures take their toll and begin to take away the fun they would normally have with their teammates. They realize they can have their 'fun' doing something else. The biggest issue with this group could possibly be that one or more from this group could be distractions during practices. They may find enjoyment in doing things to make others laugh during inopportune times.

  4. Fun for the first timers: This is the most challenging group, and fun for this group may actually be when they leave practice. These are kids that may have been forced into playing by their parents and they have no real desire to be on the field. As they move through the season, they may transition into having fun by seeing small improvements; but they will likely continue looking at the sport as being a 'time-suck'. This group may also begin to look at the social benefits to their participation which would lead to more enjoyment. But, in general, this is the group that does not last long in a sport.

So, we can't simply say "let the kids have fun" because fun can mean so many different things. If coaches try to make everything about skill development, those that are simply there for social enjoyment may want to walk away. If coaches try and make it a 'loose' environment (catering to those that simply like the social interactions), those that are looking for serious skill development may walk away.

It is difficult to find that balance. Not impossible, but difficult. It takes a coach that can recognize what each kid wants and be flexible enough in their planning and messaging to cater to each type of player. It is possible to maintain a heavy focus on skill development while also allowing kids to enjoy those around them. But, it takes a coach that is interested in working with kids of all types and not just a select group.

Many kids leave Rec programs for Travel programs because they want to play with kids who are serious about the game and their development. We cannot blame these kids or their parents for wanting to leave the Rec programs. The message should not be that "Travel Baseball is ruining Youth Baseball." The message should be that those in leadership positions for Rec baseball must find a way to keep kids in their program. You most certainly can stress both skill development and social enjoyment at the same time. Unfortunately, many Rec programs are failing to see this and take action on it. It is much easier to blame the parents and coaches that create Travel programs.

We all should want our kids to have fun when playing a sport. The physical and mental benefits of playing a sport are clear to everyone and we should hope that our kids play for many years so they can capitalize on these benefits. Yes, we will see some quit regardless of the time and effort we put into making it fun for everyone; but we have to make the effort. We simply cannot keep saying, "Let's make it fun for the kids." We have to understand WHAT fun is for each kid and make a concerted effort to tailor our coaching to allow them to have the fun they seek.

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