Young kids are motivated to participate in sports for many different reasons. Most young kids just want to have fun. Some kids want to be part of a group. Others want to socialize with others. Sometimes, they like to test their skills against the skills of other kids their age. In addition, sports can serve as an enjoyable escape from the regular school day.
My 8-year-old daughter loves to learn how to play tennis with other kids while working with an instructor or group leader. She likes to play challenge games along with other children.
However, she’s less likely to have fun when she’s doing drills alone with her with dad!
Beginning athletes should be exposed to lots of game time because playing games with other kids is enjoyable. By taking part in fun games with peers, kids naturally become interested in sports. The game time motivates them to keep coming back for more. Eventually, they will be motivated for other reasons, hopefully for the love of sports and competition.
As a child becomes “hooked” on soccer or other sports, she will naturally want to improve her skills. They understand that training and instruction will develop skills faster. Sports then become an exercise in mastery and skills development.
For this reason, you want to balance training (drills) with playing games, especially in beginning athletes. This keeps sports fun while helping develop kids’ skills.
When I work with my students, I want them to adopt both a training mindset and a competitive mindset. Too much training alone for the sake of skills development can be boring for some athletes. It may not allow them to transfer their skills to competition.
When athletes approach competition time, I suggest that they play more games and scrimmages and do less training, drilling, and instruction. The best way to develop confidence in games is to play in actual game situations. More game time will help a young athlete transfer what he or she has learned in training to the competitive realm.
Young athletes must practice and train consistently to develop confidence and see improved performance in competition. However, some athletes can become obsessed with practice routines to the extent that they forget about why they are training and practicing. In essence, a child can fall in love with practice routines and forget why he or she is practicing. When this happens, the child is stuck in the training mindset, which is not healthy in sports.
Keep in mind that the purpose of practice, training, and instruction is to develop competence – then confidence – and to prepare an athlete to perform well in competition. This is why balancing scrimmage or playtime with drilling is essential.
Dr. Patrick Cohn and Lisa Cohn are founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Listen to their radio show and download their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes,” by visiting The Ultimate Sports Parent.