Moving is more fun with a skilled trainer

by: Cor Niks, 27 october 2020, translated from the original article published in Sport Knowhow XL

Can young adults aged 11 to 15 years old be persuaded into long-term participation in their sports with lots of fun without a skilled trainer 1? We believe not. The European project KidMove, a collaboration between Finnish, Austrian, Czech, Polish and Dutch partners in sports and education started in 2019. Our focus lies on prevention of sport abandonments amongst young teenagers.

The partners in this project do not pretend to have the solution to retain teenagers in their sports permanently, but we are convinced that a skilled trainer is a major factor in binding them longer. By means of short videos, blogs and articles, provides insight, tips and background information to trainers and policymakers to prevent dropouts.

This article focuses on the trainers. We challenge them to activate teenagers more by using ‘fun as a means’ within movement. We believe that long-term participation of teenagers is guaranteed when the training is based- and focused on experiencing fun in moving, together with your team members and trainer. This idea is supported by Mombarg, R., Berg, L. van den, & Geer, F. van de (2018). In their book ‘Fun in movement for every child’, they described exactly how to achieve this. Other branches in sports feel that the strategic- and skill aspects are more important. However, KidMove project members feel that these aspects often already have solid ground in sports club culture.

Joy in movement

Many studies have shown that fun during exercise should be considered an important goal for various reasons. For example, Lorusso, J. R., Pavlovich, S. M., & Lu, C. (2013) state that having fun during physical education lessons contributes to the emotional, cognitive and physical development.

The joy in movement can be increased when there is attention to autonomy, competence and connectedness during training (Standage, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2003). A trainer can achieve this by giving the teenagers a large degree of independence, for example by practicing new skills without a trainer constantly present and controlling the outcome. Too much involvement from the trainer, no matter how good hearted, can lead to performance anxiety which will not benefit the learning curve nor will it increase the fun of learning.

It is important to let teenagers take part in age-appropriate activities and, where possible, to involve them in what is done in the training. According to us, that means regular and open conversations with the teenagers are necessary. Are they satisfied with the way things go? And be open to more critical feedback when provided. 

This could mean that your training sessions will change based on the feedback you have received. For example, is it really that bad if one of the training sessions is only played in competitions instead of mainly practicing shooting at goal? Teenagers often have the same goal as their trainer, but the path to success can be different.

Often forgotten, is that during training it is also necessary to not only focus on what can be improved, but also to regularly mention what is going well. Celebrate the successes together!

Lastly, we would like to mention connectedness. One is not only a team on the field but should be just as much one outside it. Time spent together after a training or match is a major contribution to group bonding and formation. As a trainer you need to find the right moment to join, or not. Main realization should be that as much as teenagers are fine with connecting to the trainer, they also need moments without him.  

Should the above points receive too little attention, the situation could arise that the young adult no longer participates in the training from an intrinsic motivation, but solely from an extrinsic motivation. He 2, for example, wants to become the best volleyball player on the team so that he can be scouted for the national team. The chance of dropping out or no longer being accepted in a team is then lurking.

Group dynamics and fun

Another important aspect regarding the enjoyment of exercise is its dependability on how well the trainer handles group dynamics (Damen, 2017). This means that the trainer who is supervising must have a good understanding of the processes and dynamics between the different youngsters. It is about (physical and emotional) safety, distance and proximity, and commitment. When training for competitive matches does not give the desired results, a trainer will quickly revert to even more control on the content. There needs to be more practice, more training or even more tight control on the technical side to achieve a satisfactory result – a match win.

We believe this is only half the story. It is equally important to look at what enjoyment in moving does to motivation. This is supported by the study ‘School, Movement and Sport’, in which moving- and sport motives from Dutch students have been analyzed which concluded that enjoyment in exercise is one of the main motives to continue participation (Stuij et al., 2011).

As a trainer, you should ask yourself: ‘is it really helpful to put pressure on a better execution of a strategically executed attack?’ Or is the actual problem in the teams inability to accept each other’s mistakes because the relationship between players is damaged. Perhaps it should be concluded that a trainer might be better of investing in the relationship first. By, for example, tapping the ball around and pay attention to the fun in that first, before teaching how to pass one another to shoot at the goal.

The investment of the trainer in the relationship with and between the young adults should work simultaneously with the own contribution and influence of these young adults on the group process. This should be a topic of discussion withing the training sessions and concerns issues like who is popular, and who is not, what are strengths in this team, etcetera. When this does not go well within a team, it may be necessary to hire an expert who, together with the trainer, brings the issues to the table.

Level determination and fun

Besides the fact that the group dynamics must be in order and that the trainer needs to understand the autonomy, competence and connectedness of the group well, there are other conditions that are essential to maintain the fun in participating in sports. Breedveld et al. (2010) write that successful sport participation will be permanent when the activities that are done are experienced as enjoyable. As such, activities match the level of the participant, in which he can gain successful experiences and there is enough opportunity to meet other young teenagers and trainer. In addition, it is important that there is a clear structure, that agreements are well known, and that the young athlete can be present often enough.

To find out if your participants enjoy the sport exercises enough and whether they feel at ease in your training sessions, it is important to regularly consider how they experience these sessions.  During training – when you are discussing this –mention that it can be difficult sometimes to give or receive feedback. To know whether your participants enjoy exercising enough and whether they feel at home in your training sessions, it is important to regularly consider how they experience the training sessions. Mention in the training – when you are discussing this with them – that it can sometimes be difficult to receive or give feedback. Think of the player who chooses a wrong position in the field during an attack. If this player has difficulty with the feedback he is receiving, this could lead to his membership being canceled.

Nevertheless, feedback can also be helpful, without being reproachful, to make training more attractive. In the example of the wrong position choice, for example, it can be helpful to verbally coach the player on his position at various places in the field during training. This does not have to be a problem if you agreed to this in good consultation with the player. Especially when several players are going to receive instructions from you as a trainer in this way, you prevent the exceptional position that many young people between the ages of 11 and 15 suffer from. Most young people want to be noting but average.

Another example could be that the youngsters want their training to consist of more competition elements, whereas the trainer mainly focused on highly structured exercises. A compromise then would be a very effective way to maintain the pleasure of exercise. Conflicts can also be prevented, sometimes at an early stage, by identifying and removing tensions in a conversation.

Naturally, you as a trainer may also indicate that you would like to hear what is going well withing the training sessions. As a trainer, you will get more energy from receiving a compliment.

Feedback therefore gives both the youngsters and the trainers the opportunity to compliment each other and, where necessary, support each other in improving the training, both on the content of the training and the way you are doing it together.

Trainers and education

In the Dutch sporting culture, clubs make extensive use of voluntary trainers, many of which provide training based on their own experiences. Others have followed various (short-term/incidental) courses from a sports association and are therefore better prepared on how to give training sessions in an attractive and responsible manner. Finally, there are of course the professional trainers who have followed complete and extensive training courses.

We need them all to enable our youngsters to exercise. KidMove wholeheartedly advocates education for everyone who provides trainings so that a minimum competence level is guaranteed. Instruction days or short courses from the sports association are often a good start. Examples of these can be found via various websites 3. Reading and watching the short blogs, videos and articles on the KidMove website could also be a good starting point. We hope that this site will sufficiently stimulate the desire for more educations. The mentioned websites all guarantee the quality of the information provided in the courses.


As a trainer you have an important role in connecting young people to the club or association. You have a major influence and prevent early dropouts from the sport by promoting autonomy, competence and connectedness of young people in the training and knowing what is important with regard to group dynamics. Being open to feedback and having good conversations with young athletes certainly helps. Finally, targeted education to your qualities and competence as a trainer is of great importance for efficient training and thus preserving the youth in the sport. The beforementioned textbook ‚Fun in movement for every child‘ can be helpful in shaping training and exercises differently.