Fun is such an important part of having a healthy athletic development experience. It’s what keeps kids playing sports from their early childhood to high school years, and helps them reach their full potential. If you read any autobiography of the greatest athletes of our time you will hear them talk about how much fun they have, which ultimately leads them to love doing what they do. With over ten years of experience developing youth athletes there isn’t much I haven’t seen. One thing I know for sure is that the athletes that are having fun play longer, perform at higher levels, and reach higher heights in their sports career. Unfortunately parents aren’t always aware that their kids aren’t having fun, and the reasons why are a topic for another blog. But here are 5 signs your kid is having fun in sports, which should encourage parents to either keep doing what they are doing, or rethink their approach to their child’s athletic development.
1 Communication Is Easy
Kids that have fun playing and competing find it much easier to talk about their experiences with their parents. Casually discussing what went right, what went wrong and what they can do better next time is often a light conversation that kids don’t mind sharing with their parents. On the other hand kids that aren’t having fun may find these moments exhausting, annoying, or downright dreadful. In fact I’ve heard kids talk about how much they loathe that car ride home with their parents after a competition because they didn’t want to hear what they had to say. This was their attitude after a win or loss. Happy kids don’t mind sharing, and don’t resent their parents for wanting to be involved. In fact they welcome it because it adds to the joy of spending quality time, not an opportunity to correct and criticize.
2 They Have Lighthearted Energy
Too often I see kids who are extremely touchy, defensive, and insecure about their performance. There’s nothing wrong with being dedicated to being the best version of yourself as an athlete. This is something I speak with my athletes about all the time, and they should want to put their best foot forward at all times. But sometimes results are out of kids’ control, and focusing on the process (i.e. preparation) and effort should supersede what the final outcome is. When kids fail to understand this principle and become overly emotional about wins, losses, and poor performance this is a red flag. After all the dedication, hard work, commitment to practice, we are still talking about a game. Kids should never lose sight of that, and should continue to maintain a lighthearted demeanor in regards to their association with athletics.
3 Sports are a Source of Social Connections
Here at the Boost Performance Center, we know that sports are and should always be a great source of friendships and meaningful connections. I often see kids who struggle with this because some of their teammates are also kids that they must compete against. This can create a me against them mentality which leads to feelings of “I can’t be friends with you unless I’m better than you” or consistently praying for your teammates’ downfall (aka hating). Healthy competition begins with ourselves, waking up every day trying to be better than we were before. It’s a mistake for athletes to believe that the source of their problems is someone else. Sports build camaraderie, teamwork, leadership skills, and should always be a place where kids find common ground amongst their peers. If your kids have lots of friends associated with their sport this is truly a good thing.
4 Their Identity Isn’t Tied to Their Sport
The athletes I see who are the happiest have other interests in their lives aside from sports. Their identity, or who they are isn’t defined by the sport that they play. This is important because when athletes cant see themselves as anything more than a basketball, football, soccer, or baseball player they tend to find it difficult to accept poor outcomes when competing or with their performance (see sign # 2). For these athletes the idea of being anything other than an athlete is almost impossible to accept which can create a lot of stress and anxiety when things don’t go their way. This is not the type of stress sports should bring to a young athlete’s life.
5 They are Naturally Optimistic
Kids who are having fun maintain a positive outlook on things. Sure they want to win, and work hard to have the best possible outcomes, but they intuitively understand that the ride itself will be fun and rewarding. They enjoy competing and playing the game. When kids are having fun they can see the best in what others may see as a loss.
Having fun is a vital part of being a healthy young athlete and should be first and foremost considered by parents. When youth athletes are having fun they are given the best opportunity to be their best and reach the highest levels of performance. As coaches and parents we should never forget this principle.