Sports and the importance of FUN!

Sports are supposed to be fun, right? It seems that commitment is indirectly correlated to fun...when an athlete dedicates more time, effort and energy to something they seem to have less fun.

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In collegiate athletics, many student-athletes look at their opportunity to play sports in college as more of a job. Unfortunately, when pressure and commitment increase so does stress and anxiety. There's somehow less room for fun.

To continue to improve in their sport and sharpen their skills athletes have to work harder and continue to challenge themselves. But how far do you push if they lose their joy of the game?


I've talked to a number of coaches this year who have seen an increase in the number of athletes on their teams - both men and women - who struggle with anxiety and stress. Stress and anxiety can cripple athletic performance and may impact everyone on the team - including the coach. Some athletes' battle with anxiety has been so difficult they've had to quit their sport entirely. Instead of developing tools to handle anxiety and coping skills to deal with stress, they've been advised to simply avoid the triggers completely.


Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: "We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children." These are the athletes showing up on our college campuses today. 

As a coach, how can you balance the need to work hard, be productive and get things done with the need for fun and play? 

Dr. Stuart Brown is the founder of the National Institute for Play. He wrote a wonderful book entitled, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  Here's one statement from his book that really stood out to me: "the opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression." 


Take time to answer the following 2 questions:

1. "When we're performing well as a team, what does it look like?" Ask yourself as a coach and then ask your athletes. I can almost guarantee that one of the factors to your success that will come out is fun. When you're performing well you're also having fun.

2. Next, think about the goals that you set as a coach and what you talk about with your team. Do any of these goals include having fun? If not...why not???

Today we are more hardwired as a culture than ever before for hard work, to-do lists, and a get 'er done attitude. Like Brené Brown writes, 'we've adopted long hours of work as a status symbol and high productivity as a badge of honor.'


This is an activity I did with my team almost every season. At the beginning of the year, take time to have a discussion about a positive team environment:

  • What does a positive environment look like?
  • What does a positive environment feel like?
  • What kinds of things do we need to do to keep things fun?
  • What kinds of things that we need to avoid, limit, or eliminate from our team culture?


Including fun in your team culture starts at the top. If you don't value it or encourage it, then neither will your athletes. The number one way to show that you value something is spend time talking about it AND doing it. 

While fun may start at the top, it also takes buy-in from the majority of the group to really make an impact. It only takes one 'Debbie Downer' whining and complaining to flip the switch from a positive to a negative environment for the group - if a majority of the group is susceptible to that.

Develop stronger leaders on your team who will hold 'Debbie' accountable and call her out on behaviors that are not aligned with the positive culture of the group. When that begins to happen consistently, everyone will have a lot more fun!

I'd love to hear what you think and what you are seeing on your teams. Share your comments below and then share one thing you do on your team to keep things fun?