My experience with school-age young people is that what they seek most from sports participation is fun and friends. More sophisticated research from many sources consistently has affirmed my less formal findings.
The Journal of Physical Activity & Health added a July study to the body of research. This work was conducted by George Washington University in Washington, DC, and focused on organized soccer.
What was so surprising about this study is not that winning was not at the top of the list of what makes sports enjoyable for youth, but that winning ranked 48th of 81 factors measured. Winning didn’t even make it in the top half!
The lead author of the study, Associate Professor of Sports Psychology Amanda Visek, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune to say “the fun experience is not determined by the result of a game but rather by the process of physically engaging in the game.”
Tribune writer Danielle Braff quotes this research and other expert commentary that coalesces around the consensus that it is parents, not athletes or coaches, who are most hung up on the outcome of the game, as well as the issues that create the pressure on young people that ruins the pleasure of play: position, playing time and prospects of making an elite team or earning a college scholarship.
That’s the stuff parents worry about much more than their kids. And, according to a growing body of research, some of which we’ve cited in this space before, that’s the stuff that causes many kids to quit organized sports. It’s not fun anymore.