Happy, Healthy and Talented Young Athletes Having Fun

By Ken Reed

Too often, youth sports in the United States are tainted by adults who are driven by win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) ethos. The result is a lot of kids who don’t even start a sport, kids that burn out and quit at a young age, and young people who suffer from overuse injuries.

There is a better way. A way that results in kids having fun, staying active and learning new skills. It’s the Norwegian Way. Norway gets youth sports right. HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has an excellent feature on how Norway does youth sports. The contrast with youth sports in America is striking. The show premiered Tuesday night on HBO.

The driver of youth sports in Norway is – get this – fun!

“If the fun part is not essential, they (the kids) will get tired of it,” says a Norwegian youth ski club administrator in the HBO report. “They will just stop doing it. So we have to have fun.”

Focusing on having fun doesn’t mean champion athletes aren’t being developed in Norway. Norway, a country of only five million people, won more medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang than any other country.

As sociologist Alfie Kohn notes, “Nothing, according to the research, predicts excellence like finding the task fun.”

Youth sports in the U.S. are increasingly driven by the almighty dollar — e.g., AAU, club and travel teams, showcase tournaments, personal trainers, etc. Public health, whole child development, physical education, recreation, peer relationships and good old-fashioned fun are low priorities.

It’s time we take a look at the Norwegian model of youth sports. It’s a best practice model in the field.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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