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As you watch your young athlete play youth sports, what do you observe? Do you see a child who truly loves playing or one who simply endures it?
The signs that they are having fun may be subtle. Your young athlete may not come home after every game and exclaim, “That was so much fun!” The honest truth is, your child might not appear to be having much fun at all if he or she is working hard during games and practices.
But look a little deeper. If your child is truly enjoying competition, you will see most of these signs:
She is Trying Hard
As I watched my eight year-old niece play basketball recently, I could tell she was having fun. It wasn’t because of the expression on her face. It wasn’t because she was laughing a lot. In fact, she was very focused. That was exactly why I knew she was having fun—because she was trying her hardest.
Effort is often a good indicator that a person is enjoying what he or she is doing. Apathy, lethargy and half-hearted performances are a pretty good indication that they don’t really care about the current activity. If this is what you observe when your young athlete plays sports, the odds are good that they aren’t having fun.
He is Eager for the Next Season
When it’s time to sign up for another season, does your young athlete hesitate to say yes or make up excuses? Do you have to talk him into playing another year? These responses may indicate that your child does not enjoy playing that sport. If this is what you are hearing, ask your child what is it about playing that he doesn’t like.
You may learn that it has nothing to do with his enjoyment of the sport, but rather a situation on the team itself. If his reasons are more personal like, “I don’t like running so much” or “I get too hot and sweaty” or “I don’t understand what I’m doing,” then give him the option to not sign up and ask what he’d like to do instead.
She Wants to Learn More
If your young athlete is hungry—she wants to improve, she wants to play more or she wants to work hard on her own—then she’s most likely developed a love for the sport. You won’t have to push her too hard to work on skills outside of practice or to attend that sports camp. She will already crave instruction and direction.
He Loves the Challenge of Competition
A certain amount of stress comes with the territory when you play youth sports. But if your child is constantly burdened by it, then he hasn’t learned how to enjoy the challenge of competition and is probably not having a great time. And that’s okay; Some kids are just not wired to enjoy competition.
Then there are those that thrive on it. Competition brings out the best in them and they can’t wait to take on their biggest opponent. Kids like that tend to love youth sports.
But Wait—Do Sports Have to Be Fun?
I’ve been writing about youth sports for seven years and for that entire time, I’ve been hearing the debate about whether or not they should be fun. After all, it’s supposed to teach kids about discipline and hard work.
The short answer to that question is both yes and no.
Yes, youth sports should be fun if you want your young athlete to keep playing. They have enough not-so-fun things to do like chores and homework. Such tasks are required of them. Sports are not a requirement, so if you want your child to get exercise, learn teamwork and build tenacity, then it’s got to have some fun in it. Otherwise, your child won’t want to keep playing longterm.
No, it doesn’t have to be fun every single minute. Young athletes can learn courage, persistence and compassion from situations that aren’t always fun in the moment. Still, these are valuable lessons to be learned. The honest truth is that fun and hard work can play on the same field.
Here’s why the intangible gifts you give your young athlete are so important: They speak to who they are deep in their soul. They shape character, giving him or her a strong foundation for being an adult. Don’t let them take a backseat to the money and time you pour into their youth sports experience. And make sure they’re having fun!