Trainer's Table: Keeping Sports Fun For Young Athletes


Keeping Sports Fun For Young Athletes

Sports provide a great outlet for children to engage in physical activity that is often overlooked in today’s society. Studies have shown that children who partake in youth sport activities benefit in many aspects compared to children who don’t.

These organized sports programs provide a safe environment to learn humility, sportsmanship, leadership and team work, while developing self control and the ability and openness to be coached. However, according to Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, a child’s number one reason for playing sports is to “have fun.” Yet by the time they are 13 years old, 70 percent have dropped out of team sports.

As coaches and parents, we need to connect the dots and figure out how we can keep the “play” in youth sports while providing so many benefits for our youth athletes. Here are three areas that need to be addressed in order for children to get the most out of their sports.

Make Practice Fun

Being a coach in today’s world can be a full-time job. Parents are often running the benches with their know-it-all attitudes and over-the-top expectations of their kid’s talent. The biggest challenge for a coach is keeping the athlete engaged during practice (which can seem like an impossible task). If athletes are engaged they will put their full effort into whatever it is they are doing. This is the optimal environment for learning.

One way to create this environment is to add competition into the mix. I have yet to find a child who doesn’t work harder when you pull out a stop watch and ask them to beat their previous time. Coaches, do you homework and find ways to make your practice fun and productive; you can’t have one without the other.

Provide Opportunity For Success

Set your athletes up for success. Know the age group and skill level your working with and challenge them with the proper drills that they can have success with. If a drill looks stale, you need to stop the drill and move on to something they are good at. When youth athletes become overwhelmed with a drill, they are likely to become uninterested in what you want them to do.

If you have athletes at different skill levels, you cannot have them compete against each other. The higher skilled athletes are going to have all the success. As a coach, find a way to let them have success by competing against themselves or working in small teams to level the playing field.

Teach Athletes How To Fail

Nothing is more pathetic than watching a youth athlete give up or throw a fit when things don’t go their way. Youth sports can be a great way to teach athletes how to fail and not always have it their way. Failure often teaches us a lesson.

Athletes who can be coached through their mistakes are athletes who are willing to make improvements. The ability to take constructive criticism and make an adjustment is invaluable in the real world. Giving children these opportunities to fail, sets them up to handle the adversities of life.

Youth sports can provide great experiences for some and terrible experiences for others. For those who have terrible experiences, do not give up, find a team activity and give it a try. Practice should be the kids’ favorite hour of the day. You do not need to be on the elite team to benefit from youth sports. The main priority of parents should be “Is my kid having fun?”.

To your health

Michael Donoghue, CSCS, FMS, USAW (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Director of Performance at Athletic Performance Training). Michael is in charge of designing all the training programs for professional, collegiate, high school, and youth athletes at APT. Michael holds a degree from Springfield College in Applied Exercise Science as well as various certifications. For further information he can be reached at

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