Why 'Just have fun!' is not enough in youth sports (part 1)

By Janis Meredith | Posted 12/19/2016

Lately, youth sports experts have emphasized the idea of "just having fun" in youth sports.

Personally, I believe that children will only grow to love a sport if they are having fun. However, there comes a point in a child's development when "just have fun" begins to fall short. 

There needs to be a marriage in youth sports between the beneficial philosophy of "just have fun" with the concept of commitment and the longer-term lessons it provides.

In other words, "just have fun" teaches kids to enjoy sports, while learning the concept of commitment imparts an important skill that will stick with your child for their life. 

When your child learns the concept of commitment, they understand what it means to decide to do something, then give it 100 percent and hold nothing back. Your child learns how to complete whatever they begin, which also teaches them to keep their promises.

There are valuable life-lessons that 'just have fun' can not impart on its own. However, when "just have fun" is combined with teaching commitment, the two philosophies can have a powerful impact on a young athlete’s life. 

Lesson #1: Resisting the urge to quit 

Often, not indulging the urge to quit when the going gets tough, is a characteristic born out of life experience. Most children struggle to overcome that instinctual in-the-moment urge to quit. It doesn’t just happen in youth sports, sometimes you see it when your child is doing school work or playing video games or cleaning their room. Children have not had the opportunity to gain enough life experience and learn this difficult lesson, thus they often tend to give up easily. 

It is imperative that adults impart this life-lesson in their children. 

Imagine if you allowed this impulsive behavior to go unchallenged. Your child could develop into an adult that followed the same in-the-moment urge to quit during their marriage, a tough day on the job, or just giving up on life's inevitable health challenges. 

As a sports parent, you can turn those in-the-moment urges to quit into learning opportunities for your child that will last a lifetime.

First, prior to signing your child up for any team, it is important that you talk with them regarding the commitment involved. This will help your child understand what exactly they are signing up for, which is committing to their teammates for the entire season.

Now, what should you do if your child wants to quit during the season?

The season may start great, but inevitably there will come a time when your child wants to quit. The reason can vary from ridiculous, the uniform doesn’t fit right, all the way up to heart-wrenching, your child feels the coach doesn’t like him. The most difficult, maybe your child figured out that they actually don't like the sport.

Talk with your child regarding the reasons why they want to quit. Ask them what changed, listen to them and then gently remind them of the commitment they made when the season began. In order to use this as a learning experience for your child, remember that the goal is to guide them toward making a decision that helps them understand the concept of commitment.

I would never say flatly that it is never ok to let your child quit mid-season, after all, each situation is different. However, I will tell you that you never want to let you child make a habit of quitting. Once you let a child indulge this behavior, it makes it easier for them to consider this same escape next time the going gets tough. It could be in any area of their life, scouts, band, school clubs, school, etc. 

This is not a habit you want to encourage.

In part 2 on Wednesday, I will provide you with two more lessons that ‘just have fun' will not teach your child in youth sports.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called jbmthinks.com. Her new book 11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents is on Amazon.