IA Blog

Teaching athletes the value of “Joy” over “Fun”

🕐 5 minute read 

Most people hope to look back on their childhoods and reminisce about fun times. They remember great friendships, summer camps, impactful teachers, epic sporting events and all enjoyable experiences in between.  Anything that brings back that warm feeling of nostalgia regarding the “good ol’ days” is worth the 5 minute day dream. But I think we can all agree (regardless of your generation) that “fun” has changed.

Fun has evolved from playing freely in the street, to playing in the back yard to now watching other people play from behind a screen.  All fun from the latter generation seems silly to the former. But what if we told you that joy has never changed? More importantly, what if we told you your children were experiencing more fun, but less joy? Perhaps our definition of the word will clear up what we mean:

Fun is what you have when you are not invested in the outcome. You can play Candy Crush for fun, but at the end of the game you have accomplished very little. Stacking 5 strawberries in a row is not necessarily an achievement worth pinning on the refrigerator. Ultimately the dopamine rush is what makes this feel like a game worth playing.

Joy is what you feel when the investment of effort pays off in a reward. Athletes experience so much joy from the satisfaction of victory after hard work, that it is easy to recognize it’s value. So here is our recommendation to the parents of our athletes, and the athletes themselves.

Help us bring JOY back to SPORTS!

A key factor contributing to the loss of joy in athletics is a player’s protection from experiencing the “sting” of defeat. We’ve replaced the word “agony” with the word “sting” because it is far more representative of the truth.

Another nugget of truth, is that it is OK when there is only one “winner” in an athletic event. These are sports, you win some you lose some. But once winning becomes habitual and losing becomes learning, you will find your child spending less time having fun and more time seeking joy.


“Joy is what you feel when the investment of effort pays off in a reward”


Let us tell you firsthand that it is more than ok to lose. In fact it should be seen as a means to build character and resilience. What has become problematic is removing the lessons learned from losing by trying to convince children they have won, simply by participating. Generally when all children are told they have won, the athletes who earned the top position feel less joy. More importantly, the athletes who did not, will attribute less value to the competition. 
 
We are not advocating you should avoid every sporting event that provides rewards to all children in attendance. That is not the point. Some activities/events believe in this form of “all inclusion” to reinforce a positive experience for children trying something new. It has actually proven to be quite beneficial up to a certain age. However, as early as 4-5 years old children can identify the hierarchy in sports and understand who is excelling and who is struggling. Children may be silly the majority of the time you watch over them, but they are smarter than you think.
 
We can guarantee if you asked your child to rank their basketball teammates’ skill levels from top to bottom, you would get an eerily similar lineup to the one you would create if the same were requested of you.
 
We just want our athletes to understand that experiencing some struggle tends to create resilient people. If you are ever to accomplish something special in your craft, you will fail many more times than you will succeed. Once a child understands what it takes to succeed, they can prepare themselves correctly for the road ahead.
 
Youth athletes put posters on their walls and images on their phones of incredibly successful players in the sports they love. Maybe it’s time we teach them just what it takes to earn their spot on someone else’s home screen one day!

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  1. Yes! Etienne, I love this. You make such an important distinction that’s so relevant to young athletes, AND also to us adults! I appreciate the reminder that (regardless of age) steady effort brings great reward and that losing is an opportunity to learn. It’s so important to grow up with this idea and to hang onto it throughout life.