May 2019



If you ask any player at any age the top three things they want out of the game, FUN will always be on the list.  If you ask any coach, of any level, their top priority and main objective when planning and running a session, they will ultimately say ” I want them all having FUN.”  For many years we have all insisted it has to be fun.  We have argued and debated about what fun is.  Perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of research that has been done on youth sports in recent years is the report "The FUN MAPS: A Youth Sport Scientific Breakthrough”  by Amanda J. Visek, Ph.D., CC-AASP & Heather M. Manning, M.S.  The George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences
The read is quite a deep one and often the language used is a little scientific. That being said, if you have the time and inclination it is a vital read for any youth coach. In broad strokes the report informs us of many key points.  There are many FUN determinants.  In fact in the final analysis, there are 81 things that make sports fun for youth players.  All 81 can be broken down into the 11 broad categories noted below:
a.  games
c.  learning and improving
d.  practice 
e.  trying hard
f.   mental bonuses 
g.  being a good sport
h.  team rituals 
i.  swag & gear
j.  game time support
k.  positive coaching
I believe that if you have enthusiastic coaches who have spent time being educated in teaching youth soccer as the sport and learning theories have evolved; they would eventually hit all 11.  Successfully prioritizing the list to see what players value most, may be difficult.  “To start your tour, begin at Being a Good Sport. Next stop? Trying Hard. Final destination? Positive Coaching. These three fun factors are of greatest importance when it comes to making sports fun for kids and as such tower above other factors of minimal importance, such as Team Rituals and Swag.”  Amanda J. Visek, Ph.D., CC-AASP & Heather M. Manning, M.S.
When you delve a little deeper into the fun map research, you discover that the cluster noted in A-K above when placed in order of importance looks like this:
  1. positive team dynamics  
  2. trying hard 
  3.  positive coaching  
  4. learning and improving  
  5. game time support  
  6. games  
  7. practices  
  8. team friendships 
  9. mental bonuses  
  10. team rituals  
  11. swag  
When you look even deeper into the research, it shows that the three specific determinants listed below are considered most important for trying your best when a coach treats you with respect being supported by teammates. In a youth soccer landscape where player attrition rates continue to be alarmingly high, both coaches and parents (make it the topic of your next parent conversation) should pay a good deal of attention to the “FUN MAP” study. For coaches and parents brave enough to embrace the idea of change, it is essential. If we can truly get to the bottom of why youth players enjoy the sport, we perhaps have a good chance of giving them what they want.