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Winning Not Essential for Having Fun in Sports

Winning Not Essential for Having Fun in Sports

Refreshing new research finds that for kids, having fun while playing organized sports means much more than winning.

Winning ranked near the bottom of 81 determinants of fun, each of which falls into one of 11 big fun factors, according to a new study.

The finding comes in sharp contrast to the common perception of youth sports and cutthroat competition where winning is all important — and that fun is only associated with winning.

In the study, researchers identified and quantified what goes into having fun.

According to experts, the results of this study might help researchers develop proven ways to keep kids involved in organized sports, which can help maintain a healthy body weight.

Right now, more than one out of three U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and many drop out of organized sports early in life, often saying the activity just isn’t fun anymore.

In this first of a kind study, Amanda J. Visek, Ph.D., at the George Washington University and her research team used a method called concept mapping in order to map “fun” in youth sport.

First, they asked 142 soccer players, 37 coaches, and 57 parents to identify all of the things that make playing sports fun for kids. When all of their ideas were pooled and synthesized, 81 specific determinants of fun were identified.

Next, the study participants were asked to sort the 81 fun-determinants in a way that made sense to them and then finally to rate the determinants on their importance, frequency, and feasibility.

The study showed that there are four fundamental tenets to creating fun that encapsulate internal, external, social, and contextual factors that make up the complete fun experience for kids.

The 11 fun factors lie within the fundamental tenets and include: being a good sport, trying hard, positive coaching, learning and improving, game time support, games, practices, team friendships, mental bonuses, team rituals, and swag.

The 11 fun factors are each defined by the various 81 fun-determinants — specific, actionable behaviors that foster fun.

“When the fun maps are viewed three-dimensionally, the youth sport ethos becomes very apparent. Most remarkably, Being a good sport, Trying hard, and Positive coaching came in as the top three most important factors to having fun,” said Visek.

Together, these three factors were coined the “youth sport ethos” — a collection of 28 fun-determinants that set the standard for promoting a culture of fun.

“At the same time, swag — such as having a cool uniform or the latest sports gear — was rated as the least important determinants of fun,” he said.

The full results of the study appear online in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

All of the study participants were involved in organized youth soccer programs in the larger Washington, D.C. metropolitan area; however, over 75 percent of the kids that participated in the study also played sports other than just soccer.

“It was important to us, particularly at the brainstorming stage of the study when the participants generated their ideas of all of the things that make playing sports fun that they identified as many things as they could within the entire scope of their youth sport experiences.

In the end, the FUN MAPS essentially provide youth sport with a road map to fun,” says Visek.

The results of this study are important and timely given that the number one reason kids drop out of organized sport is because it is not fun anymore.

In fact, about 70 percent of kids drop out of organized sports by the time they reach middle school — a statistic that worries public health officials because it is thought to contribute to the rising prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity in the United States.

This study helps clarify what really matters when it comes to having a good time playing the game, and can help coaches and leagues inject more fun into the overall sport experience in order to keep kids playing.

“Coaches, parents, and youth sport administration should take the findings into account when organizing and running sports leagues for kids,” says Heather Manning, a research associate at Milken Institute SPH, that has worked closely with Visek over the last year analyzing the study’s findings.

An estimated 60 million boys and girls participate in organized sports and public health researchers hope to discover elements that will help keep them involved for the long haul.

“Keeping kids involved in sports in childhood and throughout their adolescence would be a significant public health breakthrough.

The FUN MAPS can help do that. As a public health practice, sport participation can be a major source of physical activity and as such offers the well documented benefits of regular exercise.

This is particularly important for children and adolescents,” says Visek.

“Moreover, the longer we can keep them participating in sport, the greater likelihood we have of helping them establish a habit of regular physical activity for the rest of their lives.”

Source: George Washington University

Winning Not Essential for Having Fun in Sports

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Winning Not Essential for Having Fun in Sports. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Jul 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.