From Play by the Rules (

Children’s sport could take a note from many of the Fortune 500 companies consistently rated as ‘best to work for’. A common characteristic of these companies is that they have introduced fun play for employees into their business models and as a result, many are dramatically increasing their levels of employee satisfaction and retention.

In contrast, children are dropping out of sport in droves between the ages of 12 and 15, and the principal reason they give researchers is that they are no longer having fun.

What children consider ‘fun’ can change as they develop. Several researchers have tried to define the concept with one suggesting that younger children associate movement sensations as a source of enjoyment, while older children find enjoyment in the social recognition of competence and the experience of encouragement, excitement and challenge.

So what robs our kids of all this feel-good, positive opportunity? There can be many elements in the mix — dislike of the coach, over-emphasis on winning, burnout, competing priorities — but one commonly cited culprit is parental pressure.

We have all seen or heard the ‘ugly parent’ who loudly offers an opinion, abuses officials, provides ‘sideline coaching’, or even initiates altercations with other spectators.

Yet pressure on children is not always so obvious.

An informal survey conducted across 30 years by two former long-time coaches in the United States asked hundreds of college athletes what their worst memory was from playing youth and high school sports.

Overwhelmingly they replied that it was the ride home from the game with their parents.

The majority of parents who make this ride home miserable do so inadvertently. Their children are a captive audience and when parents inevitably initiate a conversation about the game, the themes can range from observations about coaching decisions, officiating decisions, the skill levels of other players, and even questioning why their child forgot the techniques and strategies they’ve been practising.

The former three points often run contrary to the overarching sportsmanship message that the sport is conveying, and the latter is the coach’s domain.

On that ride home, kids often have to endure the rocky transition from fun-loving and exhausted player back to pressured child, while their parents hold onto the mantle of informed spectator or sideline coach, and sometimes continue to do so until the following week’s game. Many kids will reach the conclusion then that if they quit the sport they might get their mother or father back.

Children have told researchers that they much more enjoy having their grandparents watch them play because they are simply enthusiastic spectators and are more likely after a game to offer a smile and a hug and simply say, ‘I love watching you play’.

The message for parents is clear: showing displeasure about any aspect of a game sends the wrong message. Everyone at a game is either a player, a coach, an official or a spectator, and parents need to remember their role. In the car ride home, let a child initiate a conversation about the game when they’re ready or have a question. Provide answers that are mindful and don’t carry an element of blame or segue into a longer conversation about the quality of the game. Help kids see the big picture rather than focusing on one single event and make that car trip a lot less harmful for everyone.

Read the full Play by the Rules Magazine here