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By Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Having fun while being safe is without question the most important component of any sport experience at any age or level. Whether you are a parent of a young child or a veteran coach, it is absolutely critical that your kids enjoy themselves when they play.
The reasons for this are somewhat obvious but important to reinforce. When kids have fun, they are more likely to continue to play. Fostering a love of exercise and athletic involvement has life-long benefits, including improved physical and mental health as well as academic performance. When kids don't have fun, they are less likely to play the next season and may drop out of sports altogether.
Researchers have found that anywhere from 30-70% of kids drop out of sports by the time they are 13 years old, and the number one reason why they quit is that they aren't having any fun.
Researchers also indicate that kids are less likely to be active as they get older, so while one would logically think that fun is particularly critical for our youth athletes, it is at least equally important that we engage our older athletes.
Fun also has the benefit of helping kids relax and play better. In my role as a sport psychology consultant, one of my major goals is to help young athletes get in touch with their love and enjoyment of playing. When athletes are immersed in the joy of playing, the tension in the bodies and the propensity to over-think everything reduces significantly. In fact, they simply aren't thinking at all when they are having fun.
While we as parents or coaches often feel the pressure to teach new skills or plays to our developing athletes, we would be wise to remember that creating fun and enjoyable practice and game experiences for kids will have huge payoffs.
Simply ask yourself on a daily basis, even if you are a high level coach, "How I am going to make this fun for all of the kids?" A simple step like this can make all the other objectives with regard to training and performing go so much better. And if the majority of the kids who play for a particular team want to play again next year, then the parents, coaches and all those involved are doing the right things.
How have you intentionally made your practices and games fun for your youth lacrosse players? Share ideas with other coaches in the comments section.
This post is part of the “10 Fundamental Tips for Coaching Youth Lacrosse” series. Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D., is the co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Psychology Program and Paces Institute, and a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee.
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