Just 4 fun? – Sports for all young athletes

Written by Arne Öhlknecht & Stefanie Peichler (SPORTUNION Steiermark / Austria) and Anita Ahlstrand & Pekka Anttila, (Metropolia UAS / Finland)

How to make sports activities enjoyable for the youngsters, so that they keep coming back and want to be involved? How to maximize the fun part in youth sports? When we know the factors behind the “fun and enjoyment”, it is much easier to improve the quality of young athletes’ experience and keep them motivated. Sports for ALL -training lesson promotes the sport development of youngsters without pressure of competing in championships.

In teenage, it is often necessary for a young person to make a decision concerning sports: do I want to continue in the performance-oriented way or in the leisure-oriented way. The performance-oriented path is usually associated with doubling the number and scope of training. Too many youngsters do not stand the pressure to perform this. A juvenile body cannot usually handle this change of training volumes immediately. Injuries, frustration and resignation can be the consequence.

For those youngsters, who still enjoy doing sports and like to play just for the fun, there might not be any space in the sports club anymore. Training times and spaces are reserved for the team that is competing in the championship. If young adults do not want to train in a club with the pressure of competing and a higher volume of training, they often leave the team and quit doing this sport or even quit doing sports forever.

Sports activities as a valve in a pressured life

Youngsters in this age are already pressured by so many external impacts: school, family, friends, other leisure activities and social media. Physical activity and sport are extremely important valves to balance this pressure from outside. Sports clubs have a perfect opportunity to provide this valve for every age group, but they miss out to serve the youngsters. The lack of opportunity of doing sports just for fun is serious, especially in this period of life that comes with a lot of pressure. Youngsters are growing up and managing life with all its challenges and need a balance for that.

That is why the sports club needs to start opening their minds to the idea of training lessons for young adults who just want to play for fun or for a soft competition. The competitive sport can just work in union with a broad base of leisure and healthy sports-oriented people. The sports club also needs a fucntioning sports club life with a high number of members who identify themselves with the sports club and function as a fan base. The sports club also has a social responsibility of offering something to all age groups and genders.

What is fun and enjoyable?

Youngsters´ primary reason for participation in organized sporting activities is fun. Enjoyment means “a positive affective response to the sports activities that reflects feelings like pleasure, excitement, liking and fun”. Fun is a general positive emotional state for youngsters and it is important to take it into account in sports activities for young people. 

How the training sessions are structured is another significant factor in youngsters’ fun and enjoyment. It is very common that adults plan, organize and lead the training sessions and they might not be particularly fun or enjoyable for young athletes. Many traditional and common ways to coach actually diminish the joy that the youngsters experience in sports activities. 

Studies have shown that youngsters like more games and game-like activities than the drills the coaches use very often in training sessions. The training session should foster desirable behaviour and meet athletes’ needs. The less structured and less performance evaluated the activity is, the more spontaneous fun is experienced and the more socially accepted roles are learned.  Winning does not seem to be the most important element for the youngsters of having fun in sports.

Therefore, we can offer two simple tips for coaches to enhance the fun and enjoyment in sports activities: maximize young athletes’ involvement in planning and organizing the training sessions and be democratic!  

How can a sports club offer a no-pressure training for youngsters who just want to play for fun? 

Create awareness of the importance of “just for fun” lessons in the sports club board 

  • willingness to give something back to the community; the sports club has a responsibility towards society
  • knowledge about sport as a valve, which is extremely important for teenagers
  • willingness to invest in a team that is an important part for a fan base, part of social life in the sports club
  • competitive sport needs a broad base of leisure and health sport
  • find a coach who knows about the importance of the “just for fun team” and is also willing to coach this team: 
    • they need to coach the youngsters with the knowledge that they just want to have fun doing sports
    • they also need to bring in a soft competitive part in order to keep it interesting and exciting for the young adults.
  • reserve time, space and money for this team.
  • communicate this offer and the possibility for ALL to join the team throughout the whole sport club, so that you can strengthen it as a fan base

What are the success factors of the “just for fun” session?

  • the experience that sport can be fun with soft competition that puts no pressure on the young adults in the long run. Sport can be seen as a leisure time hobby.
  • a challenging technical and fitness part, that is not kept at an overwhelmingly competitive level, the youngsters can evolve their physical abilities but don’t have to compete in championships
  • Co-decision and the possibility for young adults to organise themselves to a certain extent. This gives the youngsters the feeling that they are an important part of the club and the team.
  • In the training, the feeling of belonging in the group and the joy of moving together can be experienced.
  • equal opportunity to join for all
    • all genders can do sports together
    • everyone, despite their physical fitness and technical skills, can join
  • low pressure for the parents, that have to send the youngsters to training sessions and games
  • youngster can choose if they want to go to the training without pressure: sport, other leisure activities and social responsibilities (family events, etc.) are equally important
  • inner motivation to join the training is higher than the external pressure to join

Conclusion

As many sports clubs as possible should expand their offer for all youngsters and create structures in the club that make this possible. An open training with all the success factors that are mentioned above would be the first approach. If sports clubs implement these “just for fun” sessions, the drop-out of the youngsters can be reduced and many youngsters will stay in the clubs.


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Authors:

Arne is working as a project coordinator in health and recreational sports at SPORTUNION Steiermark and is inspired by the energy of working with different people together to make people move. He sees it as a challenge to give EVERYONE the possibility to benefit from the health enhancing effect of sports. 

Stefanie  is working as an project coordinator at SPORTUNION Steiermark and gets inspired by working for the bigger goal; to help people to find their favourite sport and bring them to the sports clubs. Her strengths come from living her prayers – work life balance and sport help her to be creative and focused at the job and excite others with her optimism.

Anita is working as Senior Lecturer in Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and gets inspired of meeting new people, learning new things and long walks in the nature. Her strengths come from endless curiosity, co-creation, innovative thinking  and positive pedagogy.

Pekka is working as Senior Lecturer in Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and is interested in applying the research to grassroot activities. Pekka is motivated by the development and implementation of new innovations and operating models through collaboration. He takes care of his own well-being by mountain biking and by playing football and disc golf.


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