By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
If you ask any player at any age the top three things they want out of the game, FUN will be always one in the list. If you ask any coach of any level their top priority when running and planning a session the main objective they will ultimately say, "I want them all have FUN.” For many years we have all insisted its got to be fun and have argued and debated about what fun is. Perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of research that has been done on youth sports in recent years is this report:
The FUN MAPS: A Youth Sport Scientific Breakthrough
Amanda J. Visek, PhD, CC-AASP & Heather M. Manning, M.S.
The George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences
The read is quite a deep one and often the language used is a little scientific. That being said, if you have the time and inclination, it is a vital read for any youth coach. In broad strokes the report informs us of the following key points
There are many FUN determinates. In fact, in the final analysis, there are 81 things that make sports fun for youth players.
All 81 can be broken down into the 11 broad categories noted below
B) Team Friendships
C) Learning and improving
E) Trying Hard
F) Mental Bonuses
G) Being A good sport
H) Team Rituals
I) Swag /Gear
J) Game Time Support
K) Positive Coaching
I believe that if you have a group of enthusiastic coaches who had spent time getting more educated in youth soccer and teaching as the sport and learning theories have evolved, they would eventually hit all 11. What they probably could not do is successfully prioritize the list to see what players value most.
“To start your tour, begin at Being a Good Sport. Next stop? Trying Hard. Final destination? Positive Coaching. These three fun factors are of greatest importance when it comes to making sports fun for kids and as such tower above other factors of minimal importance, such as Team Rituals and Swag.”
–Amanda J. Visek, PhD, CC-AASP & Heather M. Manning, M.S.
When you delve a little deeper into the fun map research you discover that the cluster noted in A-K above when placed in order of importance look like this
1) Positive Team Dynamics
2) Trying Hard
3) Positive Coaching
4) Learning and Improving
5) Game Time Support
8) Team Friendships
9) Mental Bonuses
10) Team Rituals
When you look even deeper into the research, it shows that the three specific determinants listed below are considered most important
1) Trying Your Best
2) When a coach treats you with respect
3) Being supported by teammates
I believe in a youth soccer landscape where player attrition rates continue to be alarmingly high, that both coaches and parents pay a good deal of attention to the “FUN MAP” study. Make it the topic of your next parent conversation! For coaches and parents brave enough to embrace the idea of change, they are essential. If we can truly get to the bottom of why youth players enjoy the sport, we perhaps have a good chance of giving them what they want.