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Having fun key to keeping kids in sports

A new study found that kids value having fun when playing sports more than they value winning.
A new study found that kids value having fun when playing sports more than they value winning.
Stock.Xchange/Len K. A.

A new study suggests that there may be truth to the old saw that winning isn’t everything. Published in the online July 10 Journal of Physical Activity & Health, the study found that having fun – not winning – was more important to kids who participated in sports.

In a first of a kind study, Amanda J. Visek, PhD, an associate professor of exercise science at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her team of colleagues interviewed nearly 320 children, coaches and parents. The children, who were between 9 and 19 years of age, were asked to identify all the things that made participating in sports fun. All the children played soccer and some participated in other sports.

The researchers found there were 81 “fun factors,” which ranged from sportsmanship, to team rituals, to cool uniforms. Surprisingly, the top-rated factors were not winning or getting medals. Rather, the survey participants rated being a good sport, trying hard and good coaching as the most important contributors to having fun in a sport.

Based on the respondents’ answers, Visek and her team constructed a concept map that coaches and parents can follow to help leagues ensure there is more fun in playing sports. Visek calls these maps FUN MAPS, which she says will give coaches a complete picture of what kids think is fun.

The results of this study are important because the number one reason kids drop out of organized sports by the time they reach middle school is that they are no longer having fun. This is particularly worrisome for public health professionals given the rise of obesity and physical inactivity in the United States.

“We’re seeing a lot less activity in kids than we did before,” Edward Laskowski, MD, a physical medication and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told USA TODAY. “About one-third of kids in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese. It’s certainly an epidemic,” he added.

It is the hope of the researchers that by understanding what motivates kids to play and stay in sports, more programs will be created that will encourage children to stay active.

“We can think about children’s sports participation as an investment in not only their current health but future health,” Visek said in USA TODAY.

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