I think most of us would know that the main reason kids (and adults for that matter) play football is for the F factor, FUN FUN FUN. If they enjoy it, they will keep coming back for more. The level of enjoyment is also linked to how much effort they will put in, and how they will effectively deal with disappointment or frustration.
So we know that the F factor is critical, but are we fully aware of what is needed to ensure the kids actually enjoy it? Often, as adults, we innocently enforce our own model of enjoyment onto kids, and although both adults and kids want to enjoy football and have fun, what constitutes fun is often quite different.
When Amanda Visek of George Washington University asked children in 2014 why they played sports, 9 out of 10 said because it was fun. When asked what made sports fun, here were their top answers:
- Trying your best
- When the coach treats a player with respect
- Getting playing time
- Playing well as a team
- Getting along with teammates
- Being active
Much farther down the list we find winning (48), playing in tournaments (63), private training with specialized coaches (66), and my favorite, taking team pictures (81). In a nutshell, kids want excitement, support, and positive interactions with their peers and the adults. Those things bring enjoyment.
Further age specific research by Paul McCarthy and Marc Jones has found that poor coaching and punishment for mistakes take the enjoyment away for younger children, while peer rivalries, overemphasis on winning, and excessive training and expectations suck the enjoyment out of sport for older athletes.
With the “coach” making it to number 2, what is it that kids want from a coach. Once again Amanda Visek asked this question and here is the top 5 responses:
- Respect and encouragement
- Positive role model
- Clear and consistent communication
- Knowledge of sport
- Someone who listens
The big focus then for coaches, and parents, is relationships. As Tom Statham, Manchester United Youth Coach said, “The cones, bibs and balls are the easy part. It’s the relationships that make the difference.”
Control your chaos: “Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.” Emotionalism—ups and downs in moods, displays of temper-ament—is almost always counterproductive, and at times disastrous. I came to understand that if my own behaviour was filled with emotionalism, I was sanctioning it for others. As leader, my behaviour set the bounds of acceptability. And letting emotions spill over onto the court was simply unacceptable. The impact my example had on those under my leadership was another compelling reason to become vigilant in controlling my feelings and behaviour. The message I sent to the team was simple: “If you let your emotions take over, you’ll be outplayed.” John wooden, Wooden on Leadership.
Model the method: You need to coach by example and model the style, manner and delivery of all communication. “The things you hope to teach those under you are best taught by your own behaviour demonstration whether it’s the act of showing respect for others, being on time, shooting a free throw, or exercising self-control. Action speaks louder than words.” John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership.