Various studies have confirmed that children are primarily involved in sport to have fun, with the following reasons typically being given by children as to why they play:

  • To have fun
  • To learn new skills
  • To be with friends
  • To do something that I am good at
  • To keep fit

Not having fun is the primary reason why children stop playing sport and children rarely rank “Winning” as an important factor in why they play sport. It is not that winning is unimportant, necessarily, it is just not the reason that they are involved in sport. Indeed, some studies indicate that high school students prefer to play on a losing team rather than sit on the bench as a substitute on a winning team.

Clearly, a coach that makes decisions based purely on winning games (e.g. court time) may actually discourage players from being involved in sport. Often when coaching junior athletes pressure to win will come from parents rather than players and this can be difficult for a coach to deal with.

One approach is for the coach to make sure that the parents see the improvement that the players and the team are making because often parents will only evaluate success according to the scoreboard. The coach should also be very clear what their approach will be (e.g. giving young players equal playing time) so that the players (and parents) can decide whether or not they want to be involved with that approach.

Even professional athletes will generally perform better if they are enjoying the experience and if it is an environment where they are learning and developing their skills. There is no specific time when winning becomes a major motivation for players and it is always worthwhile for a coach to discuss with players why they are involved in the team and what they want to get out of their time with the team.