There is no hiding from the reality that youth sports are
becoming increasingly professionalized. Kids are expected to play one sport year
round, to be on the best team, and train with the best coaches in attempts to
develop into next Tiger Woods, Leo Messi, or LeBron James. One of the most
unfortunate outcomes of this reality is that kids are more likely to miss out on the original feeling that enticed them play the sport in the first place. Fun. It does not matter what level in which you are playing, youth or professional, fun is essential to success. Take NBA superstar Dwight Howard for example. He recently signed with the Houston Rockets after a brief stint with the LA Lakers. Why would the league’s premier center leave the Lakers who have a legacy of hall of fame big men in Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq? A lot of the behind the scene experts say Howard’s “I want to have fun playing” mentality strongly conflicted with Kobe Bryant’s leadership style and personality. As a result, Howard spent one year with the Lakers before leaving. Is it possible that Dwight Howard was not having fun in Los Angeles?
When working with athletes who experience burnout, lose the passion for the game, and are no longer having fun there is an initial inclination to help them persist and get through the tough time. However many coaches and parents ask, “What do I do when it is more than a “tough time” and my child/player really wants to quit?” My advice is to first consider their age because younger athletes need adults to be the decision makers often than not. But if it becomes apparent that the sport is more of a chore than a fun activity and this has been going on for a while, it is important to support the decision and help the child/adolescent find another activity/hobby/sport to pursue. Coaches and parents are sometimes conflicted because they have a responsibility to motivate and cultivate a good work ethic, which is why we push our children and players when they experience adversity. But it is ok to give up on an endeavors when it is more than temporary adversity or you might suggest a less demanding and involved sport schedule. Imagine having to spend a good portion of your time participating in something you have grown to despise? I can’t imagine your performance being anything than subpar.
I think back to a former player of mine who was thinking of quitting. My first response was, “Give it two weeks, get back to me, but understand that I’ll do everything in my power get you to see it through.” After some careful deliberation, I changed my approach. I told the player that I would support whatever he decided. You see, he was old enough and therefore capable of sifting through the pros and cons of the decision. Plus, as a coach, I don’t want players whose heart is no longer in it because their performance is going to suffer. It will suffer because they are no longer having fun.