What is fun, anyway?

I think there is growing agreement that sports coaching for children needs to be “fun” if coaches are to engage and retain players in their programmes.

Fun has been identified as a key component driving engagement in kids sport in numerous studies (see Bailey et al., cited in the iCK MOOC Developing Effective Environments for Children in Sport).

The word “fun” appears in 46 posts on this blog — that is nearly 25% of posts published since I started The Teesra in 2009.

But what actually is “fun”?

And is it always a good thing?

In Learning is not a circus and teachers are not clowns, Donald Clark savages the role of “fun” in education —-

“The purveyors of fun, and those who think it’s all about ‘engagement’, are serving up the sort of nonsense that creates superficial, click-through, online learning”.

Shane Pill, in his blog post Is fun a cognitive distortion for PE and sports coaching?, concluded that fun might perhaps best thought of “…as a metaphorical or figurative aim for PE and sport. The concepts through which to achieve this metaphorical state of fun in PE and sport settings are immersion and agency.”

I belatedly caught up with Stuart Armstrong’s Talent Equation podcast with Amanda Visek, from November 2018, where they discussed Amanda’s research in fun maps & concept mapping.

And, interestingly, the conclusion, from children and their parents, was that fun is NOT (just) about frivolity.

A number of elements were identified as being important to the young players’ enjoyment of a session.

  • Trying hard
    • effort — yes, children reported that they enjoyed trying hard!
  • Positive team dynamics were rated very highly
    • team mates matter, both
      • being supported, and
      • being supportive
  • Positive coaching
    • coaches who were knowledgeable
    • consistent communication
    • engaged coaches (perhaps who plays along with the games)
    • opportunities to play, fail & learn
  • Learning & improving

Amanda’s research identified a good correlation between the views of children & parents

Between coach & younger children (defined as under 13 in this study) there was still some correlation, but less good than between children & parents.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research identified poor agreement between the views of coaches and older children (13+)!

No wonder why we lose so many players at this age!

Now, as Amanda did acknowledge in the podcast, the sample was not that diverse.

It comprised children who have chosen (or whose parents’ have chosen for them) to participate in sport. The parents could all afford to pay for sports coaching — nothing from a “community” setting.


Not necessarily.

But the children’s preferences do suggest that, for those coaches understandably averse to the “fun & frivolity” model of sports provision & player retention, that there is an alternative, based on effort, mastery and (whisper it) performance.

Kids do get it!

Even if they do still think they are having fun! 

Thanks, as so often, to @ImSporticus, for sharing so many of these items through his twitter feed.


Bailey, R., Cope, E. J., & Pearce, G. (2013). Why do children take part in, and remain involved in sport? A literature review and discussion of implications for sports coaches. International Journal of Coaching Science, 7(1), 56-75

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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