Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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5 What does ‘fun’ mean in children’s sport?

Various people other than Coach Z have tried to answer the above question – often by talking to children about their experiences. Nick Levett, from the English Football Association, has carried out detailed research asking 10-year-olds around England why they play football. One of his tasks was to ask children to make choices between 16 statements. See if you can identify the top six from his survey.

Activity 5 What would 10-year-old children choose?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

The 16 statements that Nick Levett used are stated below. Identify what you think are the top six reasons that children chose as the most important things for them about why they play football and select the checkboxes for those reasons below.


I like playing matches against other teams


I love scoring or stopping goals


I like to show off my skills


I love playing football because it’s fun


It’s a really good game and I love it


I like skilling people


It’s important to me I win the league


Trying my hardest is more important than winning


I like learning new skills


I like playing football with my friends


I play because it makes my parents happy


It’s important to me I try to win matches


It’s important to me I win trophies and medals


It helps keep me fit and healthy


Winning is more important than trying my hardest


I like meeting new friends through football

The correct answers are d, e, h, j, n and p.


It is revealing that the children are driven by internal motivators and not by winning or trophies. Two of the statements in the top six are about children’s friendships, so making connections and sharing experiences with others is equivalent to fun and enjoyment for them. Levett found that the children’s top answer by far was that trying their hardest was more important than winning. How do you think this compares to the values that an adult brings to game day?

If you want to read Levett’s excellent article on how he did this research and what it tells us, you can read it on his blog: Children and some reasons behind ‘Play’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Research shows that children’s motivation to play sport is significantly influenced by their age. Younger children tend to be mainly interested in the hedonistic, or pleasurable, aspects of moving and playing. As you have seen, older children place more importance on learning new skills and being with their friends. So, all the children talk about fun and enjoyment as important reasons for playing sport, but evidence suggests that they probably mean quite different things by those simple words (Bailey, 2017).

This advice is increasingly being passed on to coaches. Watch this video from UK Coaching to see this in action.

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