07/06/2021- Coach Digest


Why do children choose to play sport? ‘Fun’ has consistently been the number one response to surveys on why children participate in junior and youth sport.

The Fun Factors – now including the Not Fun factors

It is important to note that children see fun very differently to how adults do. Dr Amanda Visek, et al. in a 2014 study, ‘The Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation’ asked children to define fun in youth sports.

The research established 81 characteristics of fun, which were then classified into 11 ‘Fun Factors’ and ranked on what children outlined as fun.

The three highest rated factors of fun for children were:

1. Trying Hard
2. Positive Team Dynamics
3. Positive Coaching

This included aspects such as:

  • Trying your best
  • Working hard
  • Competing
  • Playing well together as a team
  • Supporting my teammates
  • Good sportsmanship
  • When the coach treats players with respect
  • Having a coach who is a positive role model.
  • Getting clear consistent communication from the coach

The research also highlighted that there was in fact very little difference on the views of fun between; males and females, high socio-economic and low socio-economic backgrounds and talent/elite pathway players and ‘recreational’ players.  Fun is the critical factor.

The full list of 11 Fun Factors and the 81 Fun Determinants are listed in order of importance from highest to lowest – for further detail please visit the full article linked at the bottom of this page.


Children ranked winning at number 48 in Amanda Visek’s list of 81 fun determinants.

A win-at-all-costs mentality introduced by adults extracts fun from sport quicker than any other factor.  It can be open or subtly hidden in the conversations of “the importance to have a winner and loser – just like we have in life or business”.  They will raise the question of a child’s development if they don’t learn how to win or lose.  Children know whether they win or lose a game, bout or competition.  Quite often poor reactions to a loss are a learnt behaviours and in fencing competitions overall you lose more often that you win and there is nothing wrong with having a winner or losers.

There is an importance to understanding how a child understands fun.  This is to ensure an athlete centered (or ‘fencer-first’) approach and the impact of fun from a psychological perspective in developing intrinsic motivation which will be critical to sustaining fencers in the sport.

Coaches and parents that have a win-at-all-costs mentality may get the short-term wins but ultimately the club, the competition or the sport will lose, as we have children dropping out due to them not having fun anymore.  This impacts on the adult playing base and their competitions, without enough of the next generation coming through.

Not Fun Factors

Whilst it is a positive step to understand the fun side,  there is also the counter point: the Not-Fun Factors and Not-Fun Determinants.

What do children see as not so fun in a sports environment?  The initial feedback is of no surprise.

  • Unwanted parent behaviour
  • Ineffective coaching
  • Poor officiating
  • Bad team chemistry

The challenges for coaches, parents and sports organisations will be to recognise and take steps in addressing these issues.

Unwanted Parent Behaviour – Children often find the behaviour of their parents at sport embarrassing including the way they react, yell, scream and ‘cheer’:

  • putting too much pressure on players to perform or win
  • parents yelling from the sidelines
  • parent contradicts the coach behind their back
  • parents abusing officials or yelling at opponents
  • parents giving too many instructions

Ineffective Coaching – The coach is critical to whether a child has fun or not in youth sport.  The children have identified the following coach behaviours that are not fun:

  • coach puts down the team
  • coach doesn’t listen to players
  • coach is unfriendly
  • coach gets angry easily
  • coach favours some players
  • coach puts too much importance on winning
  • coach takes too long to explain things
  • coach argues with the referee/umpire

Some of these factors concur with feedback from fencers as part of the ADP programme. They were asked the  question: “What actions, behaviours do you want from your coach at training?”













Correlations to the research:

  • Being calm
  • Not being possessive
  • Treat each fencer fairly

Poor Officiating
– Children highlighted the following factors that lead to umpires or referees making the game not fun:

  • referee making biased/unfair calls
  • referee not paying attention to the game
  • referee is rude
  • referee making a bad decision

Bad Team Chemistry
– included aspects like: player gets picked on by teammates, team doesn’t work together:

  • player is blamed by teammates for a mistake
  • teammates yell at each other
  • player is left out by teammates
  • player ‘hogs’ the ball

Some other Not-Fun Factors identified included:

  • player sacrifices
  • family challenges
  • opponent misconduct
  • frustrating teammate behaviour
  • scheduling and equipment issues
  • discouraging game time events
  • uncontrollable, and other responsibilities


British Fencing are taking positive action in order to make the fencing experience more appealing – and more FUN:

  • Field of play restriction – to reduce the impact of the non-fun behaviours of parents and coaches
  • Re-development of the referee pathway to increase the quality of refereeing
  • Making the BF Coaching Framework based on how to coach, putting the learner at the centre of the development process
  • Parent membership – this means that parents, by being a member agree to the BF Codes of Conduct and can be held accountable for any breaches
  • Creation of a parents’ zone and social media content to support the positive fencing experience narrative.

There are a number of practical implications for coaches, clubs and parents to consider from the research:

  • Clubs can use this research to reassess their mission statement and vision
  • Educate parents on the value of fencing and how they play a key part in creating a fun, positive experience through their behaviours
  • Discuss with their fencers ‘what makes it fun for you?’
  • Assess a club’s/team’s strength in fostering fun. We now have an idea of what fun looks like for junior and youth fencers
  • Those in charge of a team of coaches can educate, support and review their coaching preparation and planning for practices and competition days using the sub-groups
  • Those in charge of a team of coaches can use this information as a basis for the development of their club’s overall coaching philosophy – clear statements with actionable behaviours
  • Coaches can discuss the element of fun with their fencers – the first step in fostering positive and collaborative dynamics among teammates


Whilst most fencers want to be like an Olympic fencer, they don’t all want to be one – but they do all want to have FUN!


Visek, A. J., Achrati, S., M. Mannix, H. M., McDonnell, K., & Harris, B. S., & DiPietro, L. (2015). The fun integration theory: Toward sustaining children and adolescents sport participation. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12, 424-433.

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