Keeping Fun in the Game

Did you know 70% of youth drop out of youth sports by the age of 13? Rick Howard, who wrote an article titled “Developing Athleticism is the CORE of Positive Youth Development,” states that the reason for this is “the main reason youth play sports is fun and the reason they drop out is because that sport is no longer fun.”  Designing and implementing practices and conditioning programs that develop our athlete’s ability to move effectively for their sport and to encourage fitness into adulthood is the goal.  We need to be sure we are not training our children as mini adults but are teaching the skills necessary in their sport that is age appropriate. 

“Play” is an important component in athletics.  Brett Klika wrote an article “Powerful Play in Sports Performance Part 1”.  He says, “the number one determining factor in long term athletic success is most highly correlated with a child’s overall enjoyment with an activity.”  He also says, “While sports once served as a play based release…. our kids are often placed under increasing pressure to perform athletically instead of being an outlet.  Athletic performance is becoming a currency that stratifies many life opportunities for youngsters.  Play has become work for children. 

Rick Howard also wrote an article “Games to Support Physical Literacy and Long Term Athletic Development.”  He states, “Whether it was organized games like kickball, tag, red light or made up games, most kids were active and used a variety of movement patterns, trained all fitness attributes and had fun doing so.  With the adult driven, specialization focused world of youth sports, these games are becoming less common in today’s age”.

The problem seems to be that sport is becoming much like a job. However, we can do better to provide a fun and competitive environment while still developing the skill youth need to enhance performance in their sport.  The Composite Youth Development Model states that we should train all fitness attributes, which include heath fitness attributes such as muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and body composition as well as skill fitness that includes agility, balance, coordination, power, and speed.  We can incorporate games into training sessions that include these fitness attributes.  One key factor in designing appropriate training sessions is to consider the age of the participant to do games that are age appropriate. For example, young children should participate in training where the focus is on skill acquisition. Youth should focus on mastering movement skills progressing sessions into more challenging games when ready. Young adults or teenagers should focus on sports specific physical attributes since specialization is a key component at this age. 

Games are played in the form of tactical games or developmental games. Tactical games are games such as invasion games, net and wall games, striking and fielding games or target games. Developmental games include pursuit games, cooperation games, for fundamental movement games. The key is that the participants have fun while doing them. Here is a chart I found in the article “Games to Support Physical Literacy and Long Term Athletic Development” that outlines the difference between games and drills.

1.       Games vs Drills
2.       Dynamic vs Static
3.       Free movement vs lines
4.       Unstructured vs regimented
5.       Decision making vs no decision making
6.       Fun vs boring

I am not contending that all training sessions should be game oriented as an important component in most training sessions is skill mastery. Often such skills take time to develop and are most effectively trained in drill form. However, a balance of skill mastery and games will likely keep the fun in sport. If we wish to keep kids involved in sport and promote lifelong health, it is vital that we keep the fun in the game.