Let’s try an exercise. Close your eyes and think back to your favorite memory from playing sports as a child. Maybe you’re inclined to reminisce about backyard football or your first high school volleyball match. For me two specific instances come to mind: hours spent playing a game my friends and I created in high school called “pike-ball”, which was just basketball with one all-time defender who wielded a no longer functional broomstick that he could use to block any shot or pass. The other is playing home run derby with a huge group on the little league fields as high school upperclassmen.
When I first tried this exercise, I was surprised that neither of my immediate fond sport memories included any sort of organized team. Even my little league no-hitter and my high school state tennis championship, two blips on an otherwise vanilla, slightly above average sport “career” didn’t float into my consciousness as you may expect. I’m curious what memory you thought of. It is likely that your memory did not include adults or pursuit of perfection.
The fact that many of us don’t immediately think of a winning season seems to belie logic. According to some recent research, though, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to us. In recent years, Amanda Visek, a Ph. D. and Associate Professor at George Washington University has been investigating what makes participation in sports fun for children. Her research identified many factors that contribute to kids having fun, but 3 key areas were identified to be the most important factors across all ages and competitive levels were trying hard, positive team dynamics, and positive coaching (see a table of all 81 “Fun Determinants” and how important they are).
At Athlos Academy, we try to always use data and evidence to drive our decision making. Dr. Visek’s research is exciting to us because many of the factors that determine fun for young athletes are within our control, with positive coach interactions, strong team dynamics, an opportunity for athletes to participate and try their hardest as well as learn and improve their skillset, and positive support from parents being a few examples. Given that 70% of the over 60 million boys and girls participating in organized youth sport in America dropout of sport completely by the time they reach adolescence, coupled with the fact that fun is the top reason kids participate and not having fun is the top reason they drop out, maintaining a sense of fun is of the utmost importance.
Youth sport can also have a huge impact on community health. Sport is a vehicle for lifelong physical activity and research has shown a link to social, cognitive, and emotional benefits as well. These positives provide a rationale for working to keep kids involved in sport for life. A main goal of the Healthy Body pillar at Athlos Academy is to develop physically literate students, and one component of physical literacy is being competent in movement. Students can only improve upon their movement and sport skills if they use them and use them often. This is why above all, the Athlos extracurricular sports promote widespread participation, fun, and intentional, thoughtful coaching. We firmly believe that these elements will help foster skill development, healthy relationships and school community, and a love for sport.