Why Your Youth Athlete Isn’t Having Fun

Is your youth athlete not enjoying their sport anymore? Learn the top 5 reasons why they aren't having as much fun as they used to while playing.

As a parent, you want your child to have fun while playing sports.

Not only because sports are meant to be fun for them, but also because you’ve seen how good they play when they’re having fun.

No matter the level, athletes who enjoy their sport consistently play better.

And having fun and enjoying themselves doesn’t mean your child is goofing off and not working hard.

Yeah, at certain times it can…but not always.

Having fun is also about working hard, giving full effort while playing, and challenging yourself.

And while the goal is for your child to have fun while playing sports, it’s not always the easiest thing for them to do.

As a mental performance coach, I’ve worked with many young athletes who aren’t having as much fun as they used to while playing.

It’s a frustrating thing for them as well as their parents.

When it comes to helping them have fun again, the first thing we need to do is figure out what’s keeping them from enjoying themselves in the first place.

In my experience, it’s rare a child is not enjoying their sport anymore simply because they don’t like it anymore.

Typically, there are other factors at play.

Factors that keep them from having fun and enjoying themselves.

And since it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what these are, the athlete will likely state that they just don’t enjoy playing anymore.

But as I said, most of the time it’s not the sport itself, but rather other factors blocking that joy.

We want to look to these factors first and aim to manage or reduce them.

Once that’s done, if your young athlete still doesn’t enjoy their sport anymore, then it may be the sport itself.

But at least at that point you know for sure, and the chances of regret if they stop playing are drastically reduced.

Top Factors Keeping the Fun Out of the Game for Your Child

Once we identify the factors limiting joy within your child’s game, we can begin working on managing the factors and bringing that joy back.

But it all begins with first becoming aware of the blocks.

While the blocks outlined below are the main ones I see in the young athletes I work with in one-on-one mental performance coaching, there may be others and more specific ones to your child’s situation.

My goal is to provide a good start to identifying and then managing these blocks, so your child can have fun again while playing…like they’re supposed to.

Reason#1: Fear and Anxiety

The reason I lump fear and anxiety together is because they play into one another very nicely.

Not nicely in that they are nice to experience…quite the opposite, actually.

Nicely because once a young athlete experiences fear of failure, anxiety is quick to follow.

Fear of failure involves the fear of making mistakes.

There are many reasons fear develops, but they will all have to do with the perceived consequences of making the mistake.

This fear leads to worry.

Enter anxiety.

Sports performance anxiety is characterized by thoughts about the future.

This is why it’s so closely linked to fear.

When they’re afraid of messing up, it’s natural to then worry about messing up and hoping not to make any mistakes.

All of this thinking and worry about what may or may not happen leads to anxiety.

The young athlete will typically describe this as overthinking or having racing thoughts.

What follows are the physical symptoms of anxiety.

These include increased heart rate, shallow breathing, extreme butterflies in their stomach, and more.

Thoughts of fear and anxiety, mixed with these physical symptoms, can quickly take the fun out of the game.

Because who wants to play a game that causes such worrisome thoughts and uncomfortable feelings?

Reason #2: Trying to Be Perfect

As a parent, it’s wonderful to see your child striving to do their best. This leads to a strong work ethic.

But we want to be careful not to have this desire to do their best turn into demands for perfection.

Expecting themselves to be perfect is a leading factor of youth athletes losing the love for the game.

It’s also a contributor to them losing their composure after mistakes.

Since one mistake means they’re not perfect, it’s easy to dwell on the mistake and get overly upset.

Feeling like they need to be perfect puts a tremendous amount of unneeded pressure on the young athlete. Resulting in thoughts such as, “I can’t make any mistakes.”

Now on the outside, that may seem like an appropriate thought. Especially since you don’t want them going out there trying to make mistakes.

But it’s not that we want them to try and make mistakes.

But what you do want is for them to be okay with making mistakes and accept them as a natural part of the game.

This approach takes the focus off mistakes (reducing fear and anxiety), makes it easier to move on when mistakes happen, and also allows the young athlete to actually learn something from the mistake.

However, when they demand perfection from themselves, and feel this heavy pressure day in and day out, it’s easy to see a loss of love for the game follow.

Reason #3: Taking it Too Seriously

You want your child to care.

Caring is what motivates them to train and compete their hardest in games.

But you don’t want them to take the game so seriously that they lose sight of having fun.

Because the truth is, having fun leads to peak performance more often than taking it seriously does.

Since taking it seriously often leads to stress, tension, and fear.

Since it’s serious, the young athlete doesn’t want to mess up.

Therefore, fear and anxiety (like we talked about earlier) forms.

Does your child have a big smile on their face when practicing, and seems as though they enjoy every minute of training, yet come game time, they appear all serious?

Do they also underperform in games?

Taking games too seriously and losing sight of enjoying the game and having fun is likely the cause.

Taking games seriously shouldn’t mean being serious and not having fun.

It should mean being serious about playing hard and giving full effort…which is fun!

Reason #4: They’re Too Hard on Themselves

How does your child react to mistakes?

If they’re too hard on themselves after mistakes, this can be a major reason they’re not having fun anymore.

So how can you tell if your young athlete is too hard on themselves?

Well, first you need to pay attention to the words they use when describing how they played.

Do they say things like…

  • I suck
  • That was awful
  • I can’t believe I played so bad
  • I was terrible today
  • I’m never going to play well

If so, they’re definitely being too hard on themselves.

This negative self-talk will lower their confidence, and take the fun out of the game.

because they will grow to fear mistakes more and more and experience an increased amount of negative thoughts while playing.

Instead of beating themselves up after mistakes and bad games, a young athlete needs to learn how to let go of mistakes quickly during games, and use them to learn and improve moving forward.

Reason #5: Negative Coach/Environment

The four reasons I’ve outlined so far have all had to do with your young athlete’s mindset and the way they think and act.

This fifth reason has more to do with what’s going on around them…but a lot of times it can have an even bigger impact than anything internal.

Playing for a negative coach or being part of a negative environment is awful.

As a mental performance coach, time and again I’ve worked with young athletes who aren’t having fun anymore because of their coach.

Now, any athlete or parent who’s worked with me will tell you, I’m never one to blame others or external factors.

In fact, whenever I do work with an athlete who’s dealing with a negative coach, I always focus on how they (meaning the athlete) can act, think, and respond differently.

In other words, we always focus on what they can control.

But the truth is, negative coaches and negative environments can easily take a player who loves the game and turn them into someone who doesn’t even want to show up to practices or games anymore.

Now, this doesn’t mean a coach that’s not negative will never yell or get on their players.

Sometimes that’s needed.

But good, positive coaches know when to use which type of coaching.

And they especially know which players respond best to which type of coaching.

For young athletes, it’s so important to get them on teams with positive and supportive coaches who are focused first and foremost on your child’s development as a player.

Final Thoughts

Finding your child no longer enjoying their sport can be sudden and concerning.

Especially if, as a dad put it the other day on the phone, “He’s always been a hard worker and trained on his own.”

If your child experiences a similar shift, and all of a sudden they claim they don’t like their sport anymore, typically it won’t be the sport itself that’s to blame.

It will likely be one of the five reasons outlined above, or a variation of one of them, that’s truly leading to the loss of joy.

Which is why it’s crucial to help your young athlete prepare for and manage any of the challenges outlined above.

One of the best ways you can do so is by helping them build mental toughness.

A great resource you can use to do so is The Mentally Tough Kid Course.

In this course, your child will be guided through six modules that will help them…

  • Increase confidence
  • Manage mistakes
  • Strengthen focus
  • Manage nerves & anxiety
  • Set and achieve goals
  • Enjoy themselves more while playing

Click here to learn more about The Mentally Tough Kid course.

Thank you for reading and I wish you and your child the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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