Fun Tops the Charts for Young Athletes

Find Out What Fun Means to Your Athletes

What do you remember about your athletics involvement when you were young?

What a lot of children will mostly remember about a sport is whether they had fun or not. If a child has fun, they generally want to stay involved. If they stop having fun, they eventually drop out.

When you think about it, this idea is pretty simple but is one that has enormous application. If athletics training isn’t fun, a young athlete isn’t going to improve much over the course of a season. Nor will they continue turning up to training year after year.

If training isn’t fun, kids won’t improve.

Therefore, making training “fun” should be a high priority for a coach of young athletes.

What, however, is “fun” when it comes to training? And how do coaches use this information?

What is seen as fun will, of course, vary widely between individuals, and particularly among athletes of different ages. For example what makes up a fun training session for an eight year-old could be quite different to what is fun for a thirteen year-old. If this is the case, then importantly, it is quite possible that the idea of what makes up a fun training session will not only differ from athlete to athlete but also from athlete to coach.

So how do you, as a coach, know what will be fun?

Ask young athletes what fun means to them.

The answer: ASK your athletes. ASK them what makes up a fun training session. It could be one of the most important questions that you ever pose to them.

I tried doing this a few of years ago with a group of eight athletes, aged 12 to 16 years, who I was coaching at the time. At the conclusion of a training session, I gathered the group and asked them to help me put together a “Top Ten” list of the things that they found most fun about training.

The athletes were very enthusiastic in providing their input and the result was insightful and helpful. The group’s “Top Ten” list, of what was fun for them at training, is below. The items appear in the order in which they were initially nominated:

  1. Being challenged
  2. Achieving PBs
  3. Measures and Times
  4. Games
  5. Relays
  6. Fun activities
  7. Learning and improving
  8. Setting goals and reaching them
  9. Friends
  10. Variety

Create a “Top Ten List” of the kids’ answers.

Having received this important insight into what the group really found fun about training, it was then my job to work out how I was going to feature these items in a training session. I went home and after some thought, came up with this:

1. Being challenged = Competition, fitness tests, new activities, get athletes out of comfort zone, partner challenges

2. Achieving PBs (Personal Bests) = Timing/measuring, reinforce technical bests, record PBs, fitness tests, video reviews

3. Measures and Times = Fitness/performance tests, timed quickfoot ladder, timed hurdles touchdowns

4. Games = Competitions, warm up games, cool down games, relays

5. Relays = Shuttle Relays, medicine ball relays, endurance relays

6. Fun Activities = Springboard for long jump, partner challenges

7. Learning and Improving = Teach something new, use questioning, provide effective feedback, new information/ideas/skills

8. Setting goals and reaching them = Highlight and speak about goals, assist athletes with setting goals, highlight goals reached

9. Friends = Provide time to mix, partner and group work, social opportunities, promote conversation, encourage assisting others

10. Variety = Music during warm ups, changing warm ups, changing locations, changing equipment and drills, surprises

Next to the group’s “Top Ten” list of what they found fun about training are listed my more specific ideas about how I could actually feature the “Top Ten” in a training session.

I put the information in a chart and stuck this chart to the wall above my desk at home so it was never too far away when I was planning my next coaching session. It remained there for years.

Use the “Top Ten” to help plan training sessions.

The items on this chart became an important guide for me when I was planning or reviewing a training session.

When planning sessions, my aim was to include one item from each of the “Top Ten” list. I soon came to realise that if I could achieve this, I would be virtually guaranteed a successful, high quality session.

When I reviewed a training session, it was remarkable how a good session would have contained most, if not all, of the “Top Ten”. Less successful sessions, predictably, lacked enough of the “Top Ten”.

In other words, I discovered that “fun” was the main determinant of the success of a session. The items in the “Top Ten” chart virtually became my critical success factors.

Fun Game

With good planning, I found that I could introduce an element of fun into every part of a training session. Using the chart made planning easier and training sessions more enjoyable and effective – both for the athletes and for me.

Sport is supposed to be fun. It’s easy for coaches to forget just how motivating fun can be.

Try spending some time working out what is fun for the athletes that you coach. You may be surprised with what a big hit it turns out to be.

This article has been adapted from an article by the author that first appeared in “Modern Athlete and Coach”, Volume 46, No. 3, July 2008

I would love to hear from you!

I would love to hear what your  athletes include in their “Top Ten” list of the things that they find most fun about training. You can let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the the below contact details.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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2 thoughts on “Fun Tops the Charts for Young Athletes

  1. Superb Darren. Thanks for this. Such a simple thing to do, ASK! But I really like how you recorded it and kept it nearby where you plan sessions. Simple and practical and as you mention leads to a great session every time when followed. Which point on the list surprised you if any?


    • Thanks Utkarsh. Probably the one that interested and pleased me most was “Being challenged”. Sometimes I think that the term “fun” is seen as mutually exclusive to activities that require effort and application. These young athletes, however, linked them together. Darren


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