Why Kids Play

WHEW!  So it’s been about a month since I last posted a blog.  In that time, we managed to get through the end of the school year, host four spring regional and state tourneys, and almost complete our end of the year tasks.  I’d like to claim that we’re finally winding down for the summer, but in reality, we’re mostly just preparing to get going with next year’s items.  It still brings a smile to my face when I hear people talk about how nice it must be for people in education to “have your summer off.”

Speaking of end of the year tasks, I’d like to share some of my favorite bits of information with readers today.  As part of my end of season meetings with coaches, we discuss the results of the player surveys.  I know I’ve mentioned these surveys in a past post or two but haven’t really described them.  I’ll get more detailed in a future post, but there’s one question in particular that I want to highlight today.

One of the last questions I ask the kids is, “What are the three most important reasons you play this sport?”.  [As a brief background into the survey, the kids know that their answers are given anonymously to the coaches, so I tend to get honest answers.]  During my August 2013 pre-season coaches’ meeting, I shared the compilation of responses to this question on the Fall 2012 surveys.

After our 8 fall sports were completed, we had 304 students fill out surveys.  Since three answers to the “Why do you play” question are required, I had a pool of 912 answers from which to draw results.  Here were the top 5 categories of answers:
#5 – (24 Answers) Various items related to relationships with the coaching staff.
#4 – (82 Answers) Various items related to competing, improving, goal setting, or winning
#3 – (137 Answers) Various items related to staying active, staying in shape, or cross training for a different sport
#2 – (168 Answers) Various items related to relationships with friends.
#1 – (377 Answers!!!) Various items related to the sport being fun.

Before I get into that #1 answer, I want to draw your attention back to the #4 answer.  Of those 82 answers related to competing, only 17 of them were specifically listed as something like “I like to/want to win.”  Think about that from an adult filter: only 17 of 304 participants are playing the sport for the purpose of winning.  Compare that to the number of adults who view all sporting events (high school included!) as an opportunity to win; the kids’ goals for participating don’t match the adults’ expectations.

Side note – 17 of 304 is roughly 5.5%.  The national average for high school athletes who compete at the college level is slightly higher than 3%, so those numbers are definitely in line with each other.

OK, back to that #1 answer.  I want to reiterate how impressive that final number is:  304 students listed “Having fun” in 377 answers.   If you include the #2 answer related to their friends to that total, well over half of the answers to this question are strictly related to having fun with their friends.

I’m going to take this one step further, though.  The community of Grand Forks obviously loves its hockey, and I naturally get more calls and emails from hockey parents who are upset about playing time/winning than any others.  That should mean that the kids who play hockey for us are all about winning games, hanging banners, and earning scholarships, right?

In 2013-14, we surveyed 52 high school hockey players.  Of the 156 responses generated, 102 (!!!) of them were one of three things: I love hockey; Hockey is fun; I like spending time with my friends/teammates.  In contrast, only 9 answers said something along the lines of liking to win; and only 2 of those were kids who said they played hockey to earn a scholarship and/or eventually play in the pros.  Want to really put it in perspective?  Five of the kids surveyed had at least one answer that specifically said they are playing because their parents make them play.

Side Note – Having 2 of 52 kids list playing college hockey or earning a scholarship is about right, actually a bit low, maybe.  Hockey is one of the highest high school to college percentage sports at roughly 13% of high school players eventually playing on a college team (although not necessarily on scholarship!).  Unfortunately, the student who listed “going pro” as a reason to play high school hockey has a much better chance of doing anything else than playing in the NHL.  Statistically, less than one half of one percent of high school hockey players end up in the pros, and that number gets smaller every year as more and more international players find their way into the pros.  Fortunately, the student who listed “going pro” as a reason to play also listed “Hockey is fun” and “I like my teammates” as the other two reasons.

Here are my takeaways:
Parents – if you’re concerned/upset about your kid’s playing time, the number of wins/losses the team has, or the scheme/strategy being implemented by the coach, you’re probably completely missing your  son or daughter’s target goals for participation.
Coaches – if you’re focused on winning/losing and hanging banners, you are not only missing the expectations of your athletes, you’re also wasting a lot of really good teaching time with the kids.  Put the focus in the right place!

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Suggestions?  Comment to the post or send me an email; I’d enjoy hearing from you!

2 Responses

  1. Sean

    As a HS and youth coach, I completely agree. I love winning, but having fun and being a part of the team working together is what HS sports are about. It’s truly about the love of the game.

  2. highschoolsportsstuff

    You’re right, Sean! …and most kids seems to recognize those ideas better than most adults do. I speak often with our coaches that the majority of kids are still trying really hard to win; they just approach it in a much different manner than adults do.

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