Are You Still Having Fun?

Are You Still Having Fun?


There is no hiding from the reality that youth sports are becoming increasingly professionalized. Kids are expected to play one sport year round, to be on the best team, and train with the best coaches in attempts to develop into next Tiger Woods, Leo Messi, or LeBron James. One of the most unfortunate outcomes of this reality is that kids are more likely to miss out on the original feeling that enticed them play the sport in the first place. Fun. It does not matter what level in which you are playing, youth or professional, fun is essential to success. Take NBA superstar Dwight Howard for example. He recently signed with the Houston Rockets after a brief stint with the LA Lakers. Why would the league’s premier center leave the Lakers who have a legacy of hall of fame big men in Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq? A lot of the behind the scene experts say Howard’s “I want to have fun playing” mentality strongly conflicted with Kobe Bryant’s leadership style and personality. As a result, Howard spent one year with the Lakers before leaving. Is it possible that Dwight Howard was not having fun in Los Angeles?


When working with athletes who experience burnout, lose the passion for the game, and are no longer having fun there is an initial inclination to help them persist and get through the tough time. However many coaches and parents ask, “What do I do when it is more than a “tough time” and my child/player really wants to quit?” My advice is to first consider their age because younger athletes need adults to be the decision makers often than not. But if it becomes apparent that the sport is more of a chore than a fun activity and this has been going on for a while, it is important to support the decision and help the child/adolescent find another activity/hobby/sport to pursue. Coaches and parents are sometimes conflicted because they have a responsibility to motivate and cultivate a good work ethic, which is why we push our children and players when they experience adversity. But it is ok to give up on an endeavors when it is more than temporary adversity or you might suggest a less demanding and involved sport schedule. Imagine having to spend a good portion of your time participating in something you have grown to despise? I can’t imagine your performance being anything than subpar.


I think back to a former player of mine who was thinking of quitting. My first response was, “Give it two weeks, get back to me, but understand that I’ll do everything in my power get you to see it through.” After some careful deliberation, I changed my approach. I told the player that I would support whatever he decided. You see, he was old enough and therefore capable of sifting through the pros and cons of the decision. Plus, as a coach, I don’t want players whose heart is no longer in it because their performance is going to suffer. It will suffer because they are no longer having fun.

2 comments on “Are You Still Having Fun?

  1. basketball mom says:

    How do you handle it when the Coaches no longer include a fun element in the practice?

    • ciaran11 says:

      Basketball mom, it depends on which role I’m in at the moment. I’d approach it differently as a psychologist vs. a coach vs. a parent. But the overarching message is that something needs to change. In today’s world of high pressure youth sports, fun is often lost, which is a problem because athletes are at their best when they are truely enjoying the games and practices. There are many professionals who are playing for a lot of money, but really struggling to perform because the game isn’t fun. Most coaches who remove the fun either don’t recognize what they are doing or they have an old school mentality. They think, “This is how my coach treated me and I turned out fine.” Whatever the reason, the coach needs to be informed of their impact. However, it is then up to the coach to do something about it. As a coach I understand that it is a fine line to walk when making sure players are having fun, while still getting the most out of them. But if fun is completely removed, most athletes are then playing because of fear and that is never a good thing. I hope this helps.
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