But what is fun?
Many coaches would say that practices are fun when they lead to winning games and championships. But if this is the priority, given the fact that every game has a loser and almost every league has as many or more teams with losing records as winning records, participation in the sport would surely decrease every year. And if the players, who played on a team with a winning record one year, played on a team with a losing record the next, the sport would soon not exist.
Fun is achieved when the primary objective of youth sports is the development of the person, the athlete, and the player.
At every practice and game, coaches should mentor the person by proactively role modeling and teaching life lessons within the game for beyond the game. Coaches should put as much time and effort into training athleticism, e.g., in dynamic movement routines and the bio-mechanics of the sport skills, as they do the drills and strategies to play the game. If we are encouraging players to play multiple sports, we should train them specifically to be better athletes in every sport.
All players should be coached and be allowed to participate equally in practices. They should be allowed to play in games proportionately to the time and effort they invested during practice and in off-season training.
During practice, watching other players being coached while you are being ignored is not fun. Being coached to learn new skills and to improve existing skills to be a better athlete and player during practice is fun. Being on the sidelines during most of the game is not fun. Win or lose, participating in games long enough to demonstrate improvement is fun.
I watched a 5th/6th grade youth football game last weekend. The visiting team had 19 players. Eleven players played both on offense and on defense. The other eight players played one series in the first half, i.e., four plays, and one “series” in the second half, i.e., one play. And the team lost by 22 points! Even the second string players on the winning team played less than 25% of the game and that team only had 21 players.
My prediction is the players who played the most in the game and their parents had fun. The players who were not allowed to participate much in the game and their parents did not. If this pattern continues for the entire season, many of those players who were not allowed to participate much, and their parents, will find another alternative in that sport or in another sport next season.
For these reasons, participation in many youth sports in our country is declining.
When evaluating “fun” at a youth sport practice, coaches should ask themselves these things:
- Did you mentor all of the members of your team to be better people?
- Did you train all of the members of your team to be better athletes and did you individually assess and periodically objectively verify the improvement?
- Did you teach all of the members of your team to be better players?
- Did you see all of the members of your team and their coaches smile and laugh? Did they see you do the same?
- Did everyone act excited to come back tomorrow?
- Was the playing time for every player decided by their time and effort at practice and not solely by what would give the team the best chance to win?
- Did you evaluate the team and player deficiencies in performance first as failures in coaching methodology?