It is well documented that the No. 1 reason youth from age 6 through high school participate in sports is to have fun. Fun is the outcome they seek most. But what does fun mean to them?
That was the question on my mind as I read the work of George Washington University, Boston College and Georgia Southern University researchers in a paper published in March of 2015 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, and as I tried to understand their “four fundamental tenets of fun in youth soccer within 11 fun-dimensions composed of 81 specific fun-determinants.” Eighty-one? I guess my question isn’t so simple to answer.
But, with one-third of youth sports participants dropping out of organized sports participation each year (and as many as 70 percent dropping out by age 13), it’s important we look for answers.
The researchers have developed a “Fun Map” that allows them to see young soccer players’ responses in clusters. They have discovered “social” aspects of participation – for example, team friendships and team rituals – received significantly more favorable responses from the athletes than other aspects.
Top-rated determinants tend to be ...
Hanging out with teammates outside of practice or games.
Having a group of friends outside of school.
Carpooling with teammates to practices and games.
Going out to eat as a team.
End of season/team parties.
Meeting new people.
Being a part of the same team year after year.
One of the lead researchers has said independent of this paper that the responses of parents and coaches differ – that their “Fun Maps” don’t match the young players’ – which concerns the researchers, and requires attention by youth sports leaders.