Why Do Kids Play Football?

posted Mar 22, 2012, 10:24 AM by Dave Boynton   [ updated Mar 22, 2012, 10:24 AM ]

In his excellent blog, the FA Head of Youth Development (Nick Levett) talks about the focus groups he has run nationality to find out more about why kids play football. I have copied a key passage below, but would recommend that you read the full article here - http://youthfootballdevelopment.blogspot.co.uk/


The interesting thing for me is to compare the motivating drivers for the kids, against the input they often receive from parents and coaches. I'm sure that as adults we can all recognise occasions when we've really wanted the team to win a match, or to beat a certain team, or to learn a certain drill which we perceive will make kids play more like adults. Does this motivate kids, or de-motivate them? How can we support/coach in a manner which complements the kids motivation, rather than seeks to change it? Do we consistently demonstrate that our love/support is not related to results?


I don't have any answers to these questions, and if we are truly honest I would expect that most coaches/parents would admit to occasions where we have been motivated by our own goals rather than our kids. It is very interesting just to read the kids views and question our own!

Nick Levett Article Section

We provide the children, in small groups, 16 pieces of paper that have a host of different statements on, from intrinsic motivators to the extrinsic. They are as follows:


1. I love scoring or stopping goals

2. I like meeting new friends through football

3. I like to show off my skills

4. It’s a really good game and I love it

5. I like skilling people

6. It helps keep me fit and healthy

7. It’s important to me I win the league

8. I like learning new skills

9. I play because it makes my parents happy

10. Trying my hardest is more important than winning

11. It’s important to me I try to win matches

12. It’s important to me I win trophies and medals

13. I like playing football with my friends

14. I love playing football because it’s fun

15. Winning is more important than trying my hardest

16. I like playing matches against other teams


The task for the children is to select the ‘Top 9’ most important things for them about why they play football, discard the ones that aren’t important, and then organise those 9 into order of importance, with 1 being the most important.


Reckon you can predict the Top 6 the children pick? Have a go now. Get a pen and write down the numbers of the top statements that are the most important for children. What did you have as the top one? I’ve completed this with over 50 groups of children and the results are very consistent and when I have done this with groups of adults, to predict the kids responses, they never get them all right!


So, the top answer by far is number 10. By a long way. Did you get it right? Trying their hardest is more important to the children than winning. Now, marry that up against the values that an adult brings to game day. Do they match or are they different? Read that again, do the adult values match what the children want from their game? They should do.


The next five you could probably have a good guess at - numbers 2, 4, 6, 13 and 14. The children, aligned with academic research too, are driven by internal motivators. That’s what gets the children there in the first place. It could be said that children come to training motivated and our job as coaches is to maintain that motivation when in fact some of us are probably good are minimising their motivation through unexciting drills and boring standing in lines.


And the ones right at the bottom of the list? Number 12 and 15 have NEVER been picked by any group of kids amongst over fifty that have done this task. Number 7, winning the league, has been picked once and finished low down their list. They just simply aren’t important to the children. Who are they more important to?


On a recent coaching course delivered by one of my colleagues he shared this list, to which a couple of candidates strongly disagreed. He set them the challenge - send a group text to your teams’ parents and get them to ask their kids ‘why do you play football’ and see what they come back with. One coach that disagreed also did this with his own three children, ranging from 8 to 13 years old. Unsurprisingly, the results matched up, virtually identical! One of his own son’s even talked about trying his hardest being more important than the outcome. The next day the coach came back to the course, his head in his hands and apologised, not only for disbelieving the research but more importantly, for putting his own needs before those of the children.


A question to finish... Where do some adults place their emphasis?