There is no question that having fun when playing netball is a high priority for many but what does this actually look like in both a junior and senior setting? Moreover, how do we as coaches go about balancing expectations of winning games against player engagement and fun?
Did you know that roughly 70% of children drop out of organised sport by the age of 13? That’s 7 out of 10 kids that you have in your team or squad, who choose not to continue to play for one reason or another. While these statistics are alarming at a time when we need our children to play sports more than ever, they also highlight the constant battle current day coaches have in keeping children and teenagers motivated and engaged in their teams.
The idea of ‘fun’ in sport is definitely not something that should be reserved for our youth. There is no denying that as children get older, the emphasis on netball shifts to a more winning-focused style. But perhaps the focus doesn’t entirely shift from fun to winning as we develop through the grades, perhaps what shifts is what players deem fun and enjoyable? For many, winning becomes part of the element of fun that we are talking about. If you ask a 7-year-old who has been convincingly beaten most times they have played, they are more than likely to say that they had fun each and every time. Ask that same question to a 17/18-year-old in the same situation and they are more likely to show signs of becoming disinterested because they are not enjoying being beaten every week.
My point is that the goal posts change as we mature and grow as people and players.
What we value and see as fun and enjoyable shifts right along with us but one thing remains, the fact that when we break it down, players playing netball choose to continue to play because they enjoy it, and at the heart of that enjoyment is the fact that players find it ‘fun’ on a certain level. If this fundamental aspect is overlooked in our coaching, there is every chance that players will disengage from our beloved sport.
Coaching junior netball should be all about creating fun and engaging environments where our kids can learn and develop. At this age as parents and coaches, we should be valuing effort, growth and participation above the end result of a match. In these instances winning should not be the end goal. The end goal here should be creating positive team environments to inspire children to love the sport they are playing. In the long run, we cannot help young players become more skilful if they don’t keep coming back to our sessions. Having a coach who prioritises players’ needs, fun, enjoyment and learning, will keep them returning and when they do, over time we can help them continue to improve.
These sorts of things don’t have to be the only source of ‘fun’ though. A good coach will also find a way to set the right amount of challenges for their players so that they are engaged and enjoying what they are doing. We know competing always leads to a certain degree of stress which is a good thing because it helps us when we face challenges, but too much challenge and stress can take the fun out of playing and make it harder to perform. Finding the right balance, that sweet spot for our players in which they can grow and thrive, is the challenge we sign up for when we begin coaching. While this may not outwardly appear as ‘fun’, players at this stage enjoy being challenged to improve and become the best players they can be.
For me, coaches of older players, or those playing at a competitive level need to ensure that they are meeting the needs of their players and are addressing their motivation for playing. This can be varied amongst the playing group, but every effort must be made to incorporate a wide range of activities, games or sessions, that allows players to enjoy what they are doing. The reality is, if the joy is gone, it won’t be long before your player will be gone right along with it. But by getting the balance right, and understanding your player’s reasons for playing, you will ultimately get the best out of them, which will lead to winning games or at least getting closer to doing so!
Fun and enjoyment are the core reasons people play our game. Why they enjoy it could be vastly different from one player to the next, however, if coaches take the time to explore what that looks like for the individuals in their playing group they will be one step closer to creating a balanced approach to winning that has high player engagement and a strong sense of fun for all involved.
By Coach Carrol
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