How to Motivate Kids in Sports

Coach cheering with his little league team.
Understanding what motivates kids to play a sport will help you encourage them. See more sport pictures.
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Every year, about 20 million children sign up for competitive sports. However, studies have shown that about 70 percent of children who play sports end up quitting by the time they are 15 years old [source: Center for Kids First]. The causes for this might vary, but one of the main factors in the decision to quit is simple: They simply lose interest in continuing with the sport.

The excitement of wearing cool uniforms, spending time with friends or imitating a favorite athlete can all prompt a child to take up a sport, such as little league baseball or youth basketball. However, staying motivated beyond the initial phase can be a challenge. It is important to understand what drives the young people involved. When you know what motivates someone, it may make it easier for you to encourage him or her.


Whether you are a seasoned coach looking for a way to start the season off right or a parent signing your child up for the first time, consider how best to motivate the children in your life in order to establish a nurturing environment in which they can learn, grow and stay involved.

This article will look at ways you can provide support without crossing that fine line between enthusiasm and becoming over-involved.

For example, there have been many moments in the history of sports when a coach's motivating words led his or her team to victory. You don't have to be a pro, and your speeches may not always lead to such grand finales, but with a little practice, they might rev up and inspire your players. Check out the next page to learn some tips on how to give an inspiring motivational speech.


Motivational Sports Speeches

You've probably seen it on TV: The live coverage of your favorite sports team huddled just before the start of a game, their arms locked around each other, heads down in concentration. In the middle of that huddle, the team's leader is spouting a string of words and phrases so uplifting that the positive energy is palpable. This scene takes place on fields and in locker rooms throughout the world, and they all have one thing in common: The message is one of excitement and determination. Seeing someone else get pumped up can be contagious and inspire the rest of the team to play with passion.

If you are lucky enough to be in a position where your words can influence a team, your speech may be what helps them decide whether to stay with the sport. Think of how it must feel to be child and hear your coach or parent say that he or she supports you, believes in you and wants you to do well. When children enjoy the sport they are participating in and the environment surrounding it, they are more likely to continue it [source: KidsHealth].


The speech you give does not have to be long or very detailed. More important than what you say is how you say it -- you must truly believe every word of what you are saying. A child who sees that you believe in him will be more inclined to believe in himself [source: Harris]. Make sure that you understand what motivates each child personally to play, and try to relate to them on that level.

Motivating a young athlete can be as simple as letting him know that no matter what the final score, you believe in him and will stand by him. This might be easy when things are running smoothly, but what happens when the going gets tough? In the next section, we'll look at ways to motivate a losing team.


How to Motivate a Losing Team

Motivating a team who is on a winning streak shouldn't be too difficult. However, keeping a team on a losing streak motivated may be one of the toughest challenges in sports. This especially applies to young children because their self-esteem can be fragile. As a parent or coach, providing positive feedback is essential after a loss.

Kids want to win, and they can be just as competitive in sports as any adult can. Let them know that it's OK for them to feel disappointed; however, you should emphasize that you are not disappointed in them. Focus on what steps the team will take to come back and earn a win next time. Although you may be tempted to go with a stern talk, try instead to keep in mind that these kids probably did not join little league or the youth soccer team to pad their stats. They most likely joined to have fun and stay active, so don't take the enjoyment out of it for them.


In addition to the personal aspect of motivation, you also have to consider the social aspect. For example, although being competitive in sports helps kids learn to set goals and work hard, sometimes the focus shifts from having fun to doing whatever it takes to win. Older children often have a better understanding of the nature of being competitive than the younger ones do, but it is important for the adults involved to assess the situation and make sure things don't get too heated [source: Johnson]. It is crucial to teach them that even in the event of a loss, good sportsmanship must be maintained.

You should also be consistent in your approach. For example, if you tend to be a laid-back type of coach, try to maintain that style even when the team loses so that you don't confuse or frighten them.

Kids involved in sports look to their coaches and parents to give them support. If they receive the support they need, it will encourage them to set goals and stick to them. With understanding and motivation, the young athlete can gain the confidence it takes to pursue his or her passions and have fun doing it.

Visit the links on the following page for more information on how to motivate kids in sports.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Center for Kids First. "The Facts About Youth Sports." (Accessed 1/4/10).
  • Gould, Daniel Ph.D. "Are High School Sports Good for Kids?" Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. Michigan State University. (Accessed 1/5/10).
  • Harris, Robert. "Some Ideas for Motivating Students." Virtual Salt. (Accessed 1/4/10).
  • Kids Health. "Keeping Kids Active." (Accessed 1/4/10).
  • Let the Kids Play. "'Let the Kids Play' Fact Sheet." (Accessed 1/5/10).
  • Johnson, Cynthia E. "Children and Competition." North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. North Carolina State University. (Accessed 1/4/10).