What is the primary purpose of youth sports? As virtually anyone will agree, the correct answer is not “winning”. And who cares least about winning? You guessed it – the kids.

So then, what IS the primary purpose of youth sports? While this question has an obvious wrong answer, there are a seemingly endless number of right answers. However, one thing I am sure we can all agree on is that the BEST purposes come from the kids themselves.

This article will not go on to list the various reasons kids get involved in sports, as there are hundreds of studies and articles published on the subject (though I will re-mention here that “winning” is almost never included, and certainly never at the top of the list). Instead this article will address the number one reason kids play sports, and how coaches can promote this. And what is that “number one reason”? You guessed it again – to have fun.

Youth coaches are in a unique position. Even before a coach meets their team for the first time, he or she is almost certainly revered by the players (this is even more exaggerated for younger athletes). However, with this assumed authority comes great responsibility; namely, to do everything in your power to GET THE KIDS TO HAVE FUN.

Now of course every coach, youth team, and athlete is different, and it would be foolish to presume that a strategy that is effective for one will work for all. That being said, youth sports typically follow a consistent framework, and in line with that framework this article will highlight 3 aspects coaches can look to embrace in order to ensure that they GET THE KIDS TO HAVE FUN.

Equal Play Time for Games

Playing time on youth teams can be a polarizing discussion for players, parents, and coaches alike. There is often temptation for coaches to give more minutes to those athletes who are bigger, stronger, and faster, in an attempt to gain an advantage on the floor. This can not only put stress on relationships within the team, but depriving a child of playing time minimizes their skill development, their investment in the team’s success, and their overall enjoyment.

An article from Sports Esteem highlights 10 of the MANY benefits of equal playing time in youth sports:

Actually balancing playing time for a team can be trickier than it sounds. The most obvious strategy is to effectively plan your rotations before the game even starts. A simple calculation of the total minutes available can be done in order to assign players equal minutes (depending on personnel, you can even assign minutes by position on the floor). From there it is easy to generate a “schedule” of shifts and substitutions for the game. Others may prefer to utilize a “hockey shift” system, rotating in complete lines (or back court / front court) at a time. This is a great way to ensure a balance of talent on the floor at any given time, pairing one player’s strength with another player’s weakness.

Utilizing these strategies in an actual game can be difficult, as you try to balance player instruction, feedback, calling plays, answering questions, discussions with referees, and more. Having an assistant coach with you on the bench to split these duties, namely keeping an eye on the game clock and managing equal play time, can be a huge advantage.

Have Fun in Practices

Too often coaches believe that fun activities and skill development are incompatible. In fact, the opposite true. Research has shown that children display more engagement, investment, and focus in an activity that they actually enjoy. In contrast, drills that are too complex or mundane, or practices that are more talking than playing, can actually hinder the skill development of youth athletes.

Making a practice fun is not especially complicated, so long as it is considered when designing a practice plan. First off – have a plan. An unstructured practice will break down quickly; young athletes will lose focus quickly if they are not actively engaged. Look to design drills that minimize standing in lines and maximize player participation. Just as importantly, ensure that drills allow for players to touch the ball as much as possible (this is also key to skill development). Finally, as often as possible include a competitive aspect to your drills, effectively turning them into games. These of course will depend on the maturity of the players, but nothing gets an athlete fired up like a chance to compete.

For some specific drills and games designed to improve the “fun-ness” factor of your basketball practices, take a look at this great document put together by Breakthrough Basketball:


Emphasize a Positive Environment

Finally, be a positive coach. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Kids have infinitely more fun when they are relaxed, stress free, and not concerned about performance failure. Coaches all understand that failure is part of the development process, but not all coaches understand how to give positive feedback emphasizing the athlete’s successes rather than failures.

The “sandwich” technique for feedback is a popular method for youth coaches. This consists of surrounding constructive feedback with two positive statements focusing on what the athlete has done well. An example might be:

“Johnny, great hustle out there! Make sure you keep your arms high and wide on defense – we want to take up as much space as possible! Great footwork though, you’re not letting anyone get by you today!”

Young athletes will be much more receptive of the constructive criticism if they feel that they are also experiencing success. Also note the use of the player’s name – not only will the athlete know that you’re addressing them specifically, but it also personalizes the exchange.

For some more tools and strategies for positive coaching, check out this web page from the Positive Coaches Alliance: http://www.positivecoach.org/our-tools/tools-for-coaches/

Source: http://stevenashyb.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/snyb-original-get-the-kids-to-have-fun/
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