How can we help kids stay engaged and happy in sports? Here are a few ways we can and should support the development of young athletes, encouraging a longer and healthy relationship with sport and exercise.
Encourage fun: Young athletes, ages 11-18 should be competing because they enjoy it. What makes sports less fun is when expectations become too high and the athlete feels like they are failing someone. The best question to ask on the way home after a game/ practice is “Where do you want to eat?” or “Did you have fun?” Even losing can be lightened with the right mindset (find a reason to laugh!), a focus on teamwork, or discussing how failure can lead to growth (it doesn’t define you, it just gives you feedback). Always encourage and reward effort over results.
Don’t “Over” Coach: Parents should surely invest in the growth of their athletes, but there is also a time and place to let the coach be the coach, and the parent be a fan. Let your child ask for advice and help, but try not to offer it just because you want to. Too many times I see athletes looking at their parents in the stands during a game to get coached up. This not only takes away from the credibility of the coach, but also distracts the athlete from the moment. Protect this space. Give them ownership of their sport.
Teach/Model Mistake Response: The last thing we want is to teach kids to fear mistakes or failure. So encourage through mistakes and teach that it is growth when you stretch and struggle. Coach your athlete through a mistake response and challenge them to always bounce back quickly with a positive action.
Always find the positive lesson: No matter what the situation, there is always an opportunity to grow. You’re injured? How can you help your team and persevere through adversity. You don’t play much? How can you be a great teammate and invest in the team, being resilient to find effort and confidence in yourself. Your team loses more than it wins? How can you find an edge to get better and see past a record. Giving your best in adversity can be a “win” (finding growth here is easy if you take out the expectation of “winning” games). It’s not fun anymore? What changed? Do you need to take pressure off yourself or do you need a break from it. Use this is an opportunity to grow in self awareness.
These steps can hopefully help swing the high drop out rates for ages 11-13 in sports and keep athletes engaged, healthy, and having fun while they try to achieve success and growth. Some athletes will seek college scholarships and further athletic success after high school. But even those elite athletes will be young adults soon living on their own. Will they be equipped to live confident, healthy, and successful lives? Let’s help equip them through sport in their teens!
Many kids drop out of sports or burnout at too early of an age, and this trend seems to be increasing. A study a few years ago reported from interviews that 9/10 youth athletes play sports because it is fun, and yet 70% of children are dropping out of organized sport by age 13. Participating in sports through teen years can be a great source of growth and confidence building as well as an outlet for stress in other areas of life.
The case for continuing sports and activity is pretty obvious: healthy life habits enforced, regular exercise which contributes to better emotional health, struggle and failure lessons, and time management skills vs idle time. So why are kids dropping out of sports at a higher rate than in the past? And how can we help fix this and encourage continued play?
Let’s commit to a few beneficial actions: encouraging fun, giving them ownership, teaching a positive mistake response, and valuing the lesson over the outcome. Next week, we’ll discuss these ideas more thoroughly! Keep playing…
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