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Christmas Research – What Makes Sports Fun for Kids

By Jiri Kaloc

Do girls like sports for different reasons then boys? Is it more important to “try your best” or “to win” when it comes to motivation for kids? A new study looks at what makes sports fun for kids and it turns out we might all learn a thing or two from the results.

Girls and boys are more similar than different

A new study from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health dispels a popular myth that girls play sports for the social aspects like friendships while boys enjoy the competitive side of sports.

“Our data indicate girls and boys are more similar than different when it comes to what makes playing sports fun. What counts most for girls and boys are things like trying your best, working hard, staying active, and playing well together as a team. These findings are the same for athletes at younger and older ages and across recreational and more competitive levels of play,” said Amanda J. Visek, PhD, the lead author. The study also found that among the 81 selected determinants of fun, “winning” ranked at no. 40 in importance with all kids, which is a lot lower than expected.

Kids prefer variety

The study also found that it was more important for younger kids to have a coach who allowed them to “play different positions” than for older kids. These findings confirm other research that suggests younger kids are more likely to benefit from this strategy compared to older, more developed athletes.

“Sport sampling – allowing kids to play several different sports – as well as the opportunity for kids, especially those at younger ages, to get experience playing all of the different positions within a sport, is important for their athletic development,” Visek added.

They just want to have fun

The kids participating in this study were predominantly football players, although most of them were multi-sport athletes who participated in other sports besides football. The lead author commented that additional research is necessary to ensure the findings apply to other sports. The main takeaway is that coaches and parents may be missing the mark if they push a winning season or mistakenly reinforce perceived gender differences.

“When it comes to organized sports, kids just want to have fun,” Visek said. “This research does not support the common gender and developmental stereotypes we tend to make about kids in sports.”