Joy! The fun-factor of moving

Written by Franceline van de Geer (Special Heroes) and Paul Verschuur (Windesheim University of Applied Sciences) / Netherlands

Four tips to give most young people pleasure in sports.

Fun to exercise for every youngster! With the accent on every youngster. You do not even have to understand much about motivation to know that young people who enjoy exercising together will probably continue to do so. It does not matter if the motivation comes directly from the youngster or more from the outside. 

If youngsters usually enjoy participating in sports activities, the motivation to keep on coming to the club will increase. Good to know that the coach probably has the biggest influence on this „fun factor“!

What do we mean by fun or pleasure? Youngsters enjoy sports and will continue doing sports when they are allowed to be themselves, when they feel competent, when they have meaningful contact with their peers and the coach, when they have influence on the training sessions and usually also when they get better in the sport of their choice.

Always fun?

Should there always be pleasure? Preferably for the target group of young recreational athletes YES!!! This will not succeed always, but at least it should be the goal in every training. And, should it only be fun? No, this is not necessary. During the training, the athletes must work, wait, listen, watch, fail, mess around and more. This all will be very well tolerated when pleasure predominates and you, the coach, will achieve this with the help of the following four tips.

1. Create a learning environment in which by far the most succeeds

2. Facilitate a large ‘arranging-area’

3. Show interest and give compliments

4. Offer small steps and give smart clues

These tips are not just about influencing motor learning. It is also about behavioral learning, „how we do things together at the club“. Fun in sports and enjoying your club activities entail both behavioral and motoric learning.

1. The learning context

„You can learn from mistakes, but by success you learn more.“ The art of properly choosing appropriate exercise activities ensures that young people can gain many success experiences during training sessions. Because of this, the youngsters keep moving by themselves and in this way, they get many turns to practice. Because you, the coach, have opted for promising and therefore successful activities, the youngsters (start to) feel competent: they trust they are able to enjoy good moving in the sport they have chosen. Because of this, they probably want and dare to take the next step more easily to more difficult or more exciting exercises. 

Sometimes it does not work out for a while – we would not want to call that a mistake right away – but because the youngster is competent in the basics, that is no problem. In combination with tip 4, you can probably succeed quickly again and therefore achieve happiness. The art of choosing well requires a great deal of knowledge of the methodology and technical aspects of sport and an eye for the level of movement of young people. There may be a problem in the latter, because the levels are likely to be different. Tip 2 can offer a good tool in this.

2. Arranging-area: tip cards

Youngsters can continue to work much more independently than we often think. Give them space to arrange a part of the training themselves and you will be surprised! If you organize the training smartly and give them the confidence that they can learn very well with and from each other, it will become clear that many young athletes can keep a part of the training going on independently and learn a lot from it too. This facilitates using everyone’s abilities despite greater differences in level. Almost all young athletes want autonomy and can handle this well if it is tailored to their possibilities. Of course, they cannot arrange everything themselves, but if the coach prepares a structure for this with so-called tip cards, the youngsters can continue to train effectively and with pleasure. 

Each tip card offers different exercises or tasks, each with different options or levels. Once, a coach gave the following instructions on using five tip cards, each on three levels: “we are going to do some free running today. You can choose three of the five obstacles. You do this in pairs that I point out. You are working for half an hour and you can choose whether you want to run the obstacle at level 1, 2 or 3”. Observation tips can be added to the tip cards. This enables the youngsters to give feedback to each other. Working with tip cards must be learned in practice. It is not too difficult, but it will not succeed totally the first time you try. When everyone is used to it, it is much more effective than the coach-centered way of training. And, even more importantly, it makes use of the youngsters’ possibilities.

3. Compliments and showing interest

 In the introduction you read about the big influence your coaching has on the enjoyability of trainings. If committing youngsters to the club is important in the club’s policy, you must invest in the relationship between the coach and the club’s youth. Not everyone who is good at sports can easily communicate this to young people at the club. You must speak their language and understand why they do what they do and want what they want. Read about this also in the blog on over-excited youngsters

However, the most important thing for youngsters is to notice that you are positively interested in them. This means you recognize that every youngster behaves and learns differently and that you take this into account in your instructions. It is even more important that they feel your compliments are genuine. Just have a chat about other things than the sport, and the young athletes will feel they are taken seriously!

Why compliments? You will not approve of everything, because that would not always be realistic, but do not fail to give compliments if there is reason to do so. Compliment on a good sport performance or the proper execution of the exercise. Positive response, however, also stimulates the working atmosphere, if you pay attention to commitment, progress, perseverance, cooperation, helping others and so on. Young people just need to be seen, is that not logical? We hope it is!

4. Smart instructions 

The finishing touch of good coaching on keeping fun in sports is giving the exactly right help. Of course, this depends on the way that the youngster learns, but there are a few golden rules.

Small steps

Making it harder or more challenging in small steps works better than large jumps. Because young people mainly learn to experience success, small steps forward are the most effective.

Thoughtless

Because young people usually do not learn to move using cognitive skills but more „without thinking“, it makes more sense at a young age to give tips and tricks that use the context (the real environment). If you must think too much about how to put down your legs or hold your hands, for example, it usually goes wrong. You probably recognize this as „trial and error“ learning, or learning by doing instead of thinking. The environment challenges youngsters to move and act in a certain way. For example when they see a swing-set, they usually want to try it right away. So the coach should arrange the environment in such a way that it invites youngsters to experiment different ways to move.  So give easy understandable instructions for the youngsters: “try to target the ball at the left back corner of the volleyball-court” instead of complicated instructions on how to move the body to reach this goal.

Analogy

Tips that use familiar images work very effectively. If you want to teach young athletes for example a somersault, it is better to say „make yourself like a ball“ than to say „put your chin on your chest, grab your ankles and stretch just before your head is up again. Maybe (!) the latter works with 20+ athletes, but it’s not the way the body and brains of youngsters learn.

Joy!

Most youngsters …..

With a lot of knowledge of the sport and the above four tips and with patience and compassion, every coach will be able to fascinate and stimulate most youngsters and keep them committed to the club. Most of them, but not all. Sometimes the chosen sport is simply not suitable for the youngster. In that case, it would be nice if the club for example would look for a different sports club with the youngster and their parents. There are good examples of sports clubs that offer the young athletes a mix of different sports together.

And if they do not want to practice sports anymore, but they want to stay connected? Read the blog How to keep youngsters bound to the club?

KidMove: Because it is important that young athletes stay with the club!


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Franceline van de Geer, Special Heroes the Netherlands; Franceline is coordinator of program Sport Heroes and has extensive experience in keeping young people involved in sports clubs by leveraging their specific talents. 

Paul Verschuur

Paul Verschuur, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences; Paul is teacher of physical education and psychometrician. As a lecturer and supervisor at Windesheim UAS he coaches students to tune in to people who need more attention.