Number One Reason Kids Play Sports? Hint: It’s NOT Winning!

Scoring goals, winning, medals, and trophies. That’s what’s best about sports, right? Nope. Not according to the kids.

Reasons Why Kids Say They Like Playing Sports

When Amanda Visek, an exercise science professor at George Washington University, surveyed nearly 150 children about what they found fun about sports, the kids identified and ranked 81 factors that contribute to their overall happiness while playing. Winning was more than half-way down the list at #48.

Of the 81 attributes of sports tested, the top 10 were:

  1. Being a Good Sport
  2. Trying Hard
  3. Positive Coaching
  4. Learning and Improving
  5. Game Time Support
  6. Games
  7. Practices
  8. Team Friendships
  9. Mental Bonuses
  10. Team Rituals

The Parent Perspective

We tend to look at things like practices, trying hard, and team bonding as a means to and end (a winning season?), but it appears we have it backwards. As parents, we push winning. It’s what we ask about first —“Did you win?” or “Did you score?” never “Did you have fun?”. But fun is what kids love best about sports, and it is the lack of it that causes 70% of them to abandon organized sports by the time they turn 13.

Another similar study by the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University had similar findings. Their study asked kids to list the top 11 reasons they participate in sports. Girls and boys cited the same top three: (1) To have fun; (2) to do something I’m good at; and (3) to improve my skills, with boys listing winning as #8 and girls ranking it as the least important reason at #11. Again, winning doesn’t make it to the top of the list.

For all of the pressure parents apply on their athletic kids to team hop from competitive team to more competitive team, the truth is that kids just want to play. Even if it means playing on a losing team. In a sportsmanship study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, researchers found that the majority of high school athletes would prefer to play for a losing team than sit the bench for a winning team, proving yet again that winning is not an essential component of enjoying youth sports.

Having Fun is Important

It’s an important reminder to coaches. Even at the elite levels of sports, fun is still a necessary attribute to keep kids coming to practice and maintaining their commitment to both the team and the sport itself.

Simply put, when they no longer have fun, kids quit. A Harris Interactive poll of 8-18 year-olds showed the decision to quit a sport had very little to do with a player’s own skill level and was more a response to constant adult pressure to win each and every game and the perceived lack of fun.

This is a wake-up call to parents to back off and let kids just play the game, and to also let the child be the guide in terms of the level of competitiveness and what team they play on. Parents often guide their kids to more competitive teams when many kids might be happy just where they are.

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