Are we having fun yet??
Strategies to keep fun in sports
By George Kuntz
Director of Coaching – Hawaii Youth Soccer Association
Have you ever been to a game on a Saturday morning and watched the little brothers and sisters on the side of the field as their siblings play in a their soccer match? They've found a ball, chosen teams and have their own little game going.
The kid’s are exerting tremendous effort and the fun they are having is through their own creativity. No one is refereeing, coaching, or screaming at them, as in their sibling's game next to them. They're in their own little world, making their own decisions, good or bad, without having parents or coaches analyze every move.
While watching the game of the younger brother’s or sister’s one can see the creativity these little ones have, while they smile and laugh often through fierce fun competition. The kids are also communicating with one another about rules and decisions while they play.
What takes place after players actually join a team is quite interesting. Often coaches and parents want to provide children a positive experience in sports, but sometimes tend to over-coach or become very competitive and overlook the fun aspect of the games children play. Camp coaches or instructors can make the game fun again for the child who has had difficult past experiences in sports.
The best environment for players is a positive one that encourages creativity by allowing kids to make their own decisions.
Very often the kids themselves realize that a decision they have made on the field is good or bad immediately after they make it. It's up to coaches to encourage better options after the kids experience a mistake.
Some of the best examples for decision-making development are:
- Provide opportunities for the players input in the rules of the game.
- Provide the players opportunities to play the game without describing all the details of the game.
- Ask players if they liked the choices they make after they experience situations in a game.
- Provide games that stimulate thinking and ask thought provoking (open ended) questions.
Practices should be geared to the age and skill level of the players. If it's too difficult, players will experience frustration. If the practice is too easy players will become bored.
When kids watch television they channel surf. It's hard for them to watch one thing unless it's something they like or have become accustomed to watching.
The approach to teaching children is very similar in that children like to stay active in a variety of activities. If a child stays with one activity too long they become bored and disinterested.
Keep your activities fresh by selecting exercises that don't take too much moving of equipment or complex instructions to make it a different activity. By simply making a small change the activity or the demands of an activity will make it fun for the child.
Younger players need practices that are dynamic with new challenges. Emphasis should be on technique or motor skill development while incorporating fun exercises that will give players repetition and success.
Each player should have a ball, or whatever the primary equipment is. All practices should include some form of a small-sided game with simple rules that encourages everyone’s participation. Encourage positive communication between players, parents and coaches/counselors.
Players need to know acceptable and unacceptable behavior on and off the field of play. Coaches must understand their role as the coach and role model. During camp coaches will need to meet with the players to reinforce positive communication.
Coaches can get the team together for an activity. Have meetings where players have to share some part of their lives with the rest of the team. Team building exercises are always a good way to bring the team closer and foster a supportive climate. Some great teambuilding exercises are:
- Pairing up kids and have them learn about someone else then describe their partner’s life to the group.
- Trust building exercises should be prepared as pairs or a group.
- Eating together, hanging out together, work on a project together.
- Shared projects with additional groups.
Shouting doesn't work with kids. Maintain a human side when speaking to children. Be firm when you need to be while keeping in mind that taking a general interest in a child can make a tremendous impact on their life.
Instead of shouting try bringing all the players in and whisper instructions rather than shouting them. See how effective this method can be with young players. Enjoy your time with these young people. They look up to you.
Remember the kids playing at the side of the field the next time you are at a sports game. That is the model of creativity, enthusiasm, and fun that the kids need.
George Kuntz and brother Dan Kuntz own and operate Team Soccer Direct, a day and residence camp. George is also head men's coach at UC Irvine and director of coaching for the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association. For more Team Soccer Direct Camp and Coaching Information visit:
- Individual meetings.
- Make sure everyone on the team is acknowledged.
- Sharing goals for the day, week, or summer.