Want Your Kid To Win At Sports? De-Emphasize “Winning”

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While any father has a pretty good sense of when his kid is or isn’t having fun, it’s not a question that science has investigated with much rigor. But a study out of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health drew some surprising conclusions while developing what they call “Fun Maps” of what kids like most about competitive sports. Spoiler alert: Winning isn’t one of the things.

Seventy percent of kids stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 due to a lack of enjoyment.

What They Found
A team of exercise scientists interviewed young athletes, coaches and parents to identify 81 “determinants of fun,” which were then organized and ranked according to frequency. Each individual determinant was grouped into “fun factors,” the three highest ranked of which were “being a good sport,” “trying hard” and “positive coaching.” Of the 81 determinants, “Winning” ranked 48th and things like uniforms and trophies finished last (although, when asked, the Uniforms and Trophies groups claimed winning wasn’t important to them).

Why It Matters
Seventy percent of kids stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 due to a lack of enjoyment. In a related development, parents frequently make their kids miserable during organized sports by focusing on the exact things – winning and individual performance – that kids consider less important. No ballgame should ever have the joy sucked from it by the fun-vacuum of a parent bleating from the bleachers, even if those parents will once in a blue moon produce Tiger Woods or Andre Agassi.

What You Can Do
The researchers feel their findings can battle the obesity epidemic by helping coaches, gym teachers and phys-ed administrators increase kids’ engagement with organized sports into their adolescence. But the findings also reinforce what leadership consultant Dr. Tim Leonard identifies as the most productive things to say to kids before and after competition:

Before
1. Have fun
2. Play hard
3. I love you

After
1. Did you have fun?
2.I’m proud of you,
3. I love you

If that’s too much to remember, you can always stick with the 6 words every athlete wants to hear from their parents, as determined by coaches Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller over 30 years of asking their players:

I love to watch you play.

When it’s put that simply, you don’t even need a Fun Map to help your kid enjoy the game.

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