You may hear parents and athletes overwhelmed with this whole sports process say that sports should be “fun.” Countless studies have been done that interview young kids in sports, and every one of them will tell you that the number one reason they play is that sports are fun. But there are never any follow-up studies to show if those kids actually made it anywhere. If they actually became “athletes” who were committed to playing and continued to the highest levels in their sport.
(Warning: As always, Olympian – Jonathan Edwards is a performance coach who works with athletes and their families who have big athletic aspirations. Keep that in mind as you read this advice. Enjoy!)
If you are a competitive athlete, sure, it would be nice if sports were always “fun.” But, what else is “fun”? How about this for a list:
Xbox. Playstation. Call of Duty. Eating pizza. Watching TikTok. Going on a road trip. Hanging out with friends. Graffitiing a wall. Watching “fail” videos. Watching cat videos. Watching fail videos of cats. Watching reruns of The Office. (Thanks Covid) I could go on.
The bottom line is that “fun” is very subjective. If you ask one hundred people what “fun” is, you’ll get a hundred different answers.
The problem with the word “fun” is that when something isn’t “fun” anymore, what do you do? You quit! You click away. When something isn’t fun, you just stop and find something else to do and replace it. It’s usually an even exchange. “This thing stopped being fun, so I replaced it with this other thing that is also fun.” While you might be bummed for a nano-second, you quickly forget that thing you just gave up. (In this case, your sport) It’s almost like apps on your phone. “Well, this game bores me, so I’m going to swipe over here and play that game.” You don’t get sad by shutting down the app; you just leave and head to the next one barely giving it any thought.
Competing In Sports Isn’t Always Fun
I want to encourage you to stop using the word “fun” to describe your sports experience. Why? Because there are going to be times when sports aren’t fun.
No, sports aren’t always fun. But overall, sports are “enjoyable.” I want you to replace the word “fun” with the word enjoyable. While the word “fun” and “enjoyable” can sometimes be interchanged, the word “fun” has an aspect of amusement to it. The word “fun” can mean “to have a good time” or to “be entertained.” It’s a distraction from something else that people might feel is more serious. But in the definition of the word “enjoyable,” there is an aspect of hard work satisfaction to it. There are benefits to having an enjoyable experience even when things get tricky.
I remember playing lacrosse when I was young in an absolute downpour. The field was so muddy that pigs would have liked to play on the field we were on. At one point, I got so much mud in my face that the referee had to stop the game while I flushed out my eyes. Was it fun? Not particularly. Was it enjoyable? Heck yeah! We even lost!
Another time I almost got frostbite on my hands while competing in Switzerland. It was bitterly cold, and our start house had no heat. My fingers were in so much pain that it took hours for them to warm back up and get back to normal. Fun? Not really. Enjoyable? You bet. I was training to go to the Olympics on the side of an Alp in Switzerland! It was one of the best experiences of my life.
When you talk about sports being fun, you open yourself up to quitting very quickly, so stop calling sports “fun” right now. If something isn’t fun to the people around you, they will wonder why you don’t quit when things get tough. They will have already quit, mentally, because it’s not fun to them.
But when you talk about your situation as enjoyable, you can be working your butt off in the hot or the cold, the rain or the sun, running shuttle drills or lifting weights, breathing hard with sore muscles tomorrow, and still be enjoying yourself. Make sense?
You Wouldn’t Quit Math Because It Wasn’t Fun, Would You?
I find it interesting that people will come home from a practice or a game and think, “Well, that wasn’t much fun. Maybe I should do something else.” Yet I never hear people say that about math! If you came home from school and said, “You know Mom, Dad, the math just isn’t much fun anymore. I think I’m going to quit.” Your parents would have said, “Suck it up, Princess. You need math for college, so get back in there and tough it out!” You may even spend money on tutoring or extra help. You may take a different class to get caught up. But you wouldn’t even consider quitting because it’s a law that you complete it, and it’s just not an option.
But so many people will just quit sports because it isn’t fun anymore. That everyday, simple, “Have fun, Honey!” from mom or dad can be a setup. If you are seeking only fun in sports, you will eventually be disappointed. Why? Because you will run into a coach or teammates who want you to do more, be more, and have more. They are going to make you work and work hard. Why? Because sports are challenging, and the goal is to win the game. If you aren’t winning now, you’re going to need to work harder. Is that going to be fun? Not all the time. But is it going to be enjoyable? You bet.
Fun vs. Enjoyment. Set The Stage
When I became a parent, as my kids reached about three to four years old, I realized that how we set them up for an experience was a VERY big deal. As a performance coach I was also very familiar with the concept that how prepared you are to go into a situation is about 90% of the battle. Go in expecting the wrong thing and you’ve already lost.
We also know through the work of Angela Duckworth, author of the book “Grit”, that your ability to stick with things is the ultimate factor for success. Focusing on the effort applied to the work is most important.
When you make this shift in your attitude towards your sport, everything that gets uncomfortable becomes easier to deal with. From the weather to the coaching staff, to the school, or the sponsors. When you seek things that are more ‘fun’, you may walk away. But learning to navigate these situations can be incredibly enjoyable.
It is vital then that you prepare your athlete to be able to slog through. To realize that the enjoyment comes from the effort and not the result. Set your athlete up for success by helping them realize that not everything is fun and entertaining but it can be enjoyable. When sport isn’t enjoyable, that’s a different story. But if you’re setting them up to have the same feelings they have when they game, or just hang out scrolling through TikTok, you’re setting them up to fail.
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Olympian Jonathan Edwards
Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams. Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others. Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.