At Pro Skills Basketball, we use the acronym F.O.C.U.S. in our attempt to make a change in a youth sports culture that we see as flawed.

The “F” in F.O.C.U.S. stands for FUN, as we believe, along with many others, that a big issue facing youth athletics today is pressure sucking the fun out of sport, causing kids to give up on sports at a young age.

A quick Google search for “youth sports”, reveals article after article discussing the world of youth sports and the need to make it fun again.

As Mark Hyman wrote in a New York Times article, when asked why they play sports at a young age, most kids list “fun” as their main reason to participate.

Below are a few things that parents can do to help their child have fun while playing sports.

1. Realize That Your Child May Have a Different Definition of “FUN” Than You Do

Yes, winning is fun for all those involved, but it is not the reason your child should play the game. I’ve been approached after games by parents who are “concerned” (frustrated, really) about their son or daughter’s team getting blown out.

These parents worry that the team getting beat is taking away the fun for their child or hurting their child’s confidence. I listen to their concerns only to look over and see their son playing tag with his buddies. As a coach and an adult, I understand the frustration that comes with watching your child or their team not win games. It’s not fun.

However, just because it is not fun for you, doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t have fun playing with his friends, having people cheer for them on the court or playing for a coach that he or she feels genuinely cares about them.

Often times the reaction of the parent greatly influences the reaction of the child. If, as a parent, you can relay to your child how much fun you have watching them play, they will in turn have fun playing.

2. Avoid Coaching your Child

This is admittedly very difficult. As a club director, I do not coach many teams anymore. As I watch our club teams play, my urge to go over to the bench and tell the coach what to do or to yell something to a player is there. The urge is sometimes very difficult to control.

But having been the coach on the bench, I have seen the harm that comes with coaching from the sidelines. I think these cartoons perfectly demonstrates the issue with having too many coaches in the stands:

parents coaching from the sidelines

As a player, I experienced the frustration of being given conflicting instructions from coaches and parents. As you are shouting instructions to your child, keep in mind that the coach may have told them to do the opposite.

Making your child decide who to listen to does nothing but put pressure on them to make a choice. Who do they listen to and who do they disappoint? Their coach? Their dad? Their teammates? It’s a lot of pressure and more pressure leads to less fun.

Equally toxic are the post game breakdowns of their performance.

“Don’t dissect games or practice on the way home. You might be tempted to comment on a particular play after a game, but it’s better not to say anything at all. Ask your child whether she had fun and then move on, said Elizabeth Brown, who teaches sports psychology at the University of Maryland.” – Washington Post

don't yell at kids while playing sports

Relaying your disappointment in their personal performance, how dumb the coach is or how bad the other players on the team are can breed a lot of negativity and I’ve never heard of negativity leading to joy.

If you want your child to continue with basketball for a long time, they have to develop a sense of joy in playing the game! Without joy, the inevitable pressures, disappointments and adversity will lead to them quitting.

Again, this is difficult and things within a team are not going to be perfect, but it’s best to address your concerns with the coach or the director and let your child focus on playing, learning and having fun.

3. Find an Organization or Coach that Matches your Goals and Values Concerning your Child and Sports

Here at Pro Skills Basketball, we always talk about walking a fine line with youth sports. We try to be neither a “win-at-all-cost” club, nor an “everyone-gets-a-trophy” club. It is difficult and we are not always successful. But we have no problem respectfully telling people that we are probably not the club for them.

Some parents want their child to travel and play for a national championship. Some parents want every child to play equal minutes and not feel any pressure. Both views are understandable.

But, if as a parent, you can findparents not making sports fun for kids an organization that matches up to your beliefs, hopefully there aren’t any misunderstandings concerning expectations and you and your child can proceed with the season confident that coaches and directors are on the same page concerning your child.

Not being on the same page with your organization or coach can lead to frustration on both sides, thus taking the fun out of the game for the player.

When parents and organization directors openly work together to honestly set expectations, the inevitable difficult times that come in every season can be worked through together without the negativity and pressure on the player.

As Mark Hyman stated in his New York Times article:

“So many of the big lessons from playing sports aren’t about sports at all. They’re about growing up – making new friends, developing self-esteem, learning to be a reliable teammate. It’s a shame that more kids aren’t sticking around to learn about them.”

Over the next few weeks, we will go on to cover other life lessons and skills taught through basketball contained in our F.O.C.U.S. acronym, so stay tuned!

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