Retention – “The Fun Game”

Retention – “The Fun Game”

by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

Ewing and Seefeldt (1) completed an extensive study (8,000 youths) to determine why kids in non-school programs play sport. The top ten reasons in order are to: HAVE FUN, do something they are good at, improve skills, stay in shape, for the challenge of competition, to get exercise, play as part of a team (i.e., be with their friends), and go to a higher level of competition. The results that kids gave for playing school-sponsored sports were similar and we as coaches should take a lesson from their self-described motivations.

It is all about the “FUN”! In youth sport, coaches and program administrators will retain more participants if the kids have fun, if they don’t feel threatened, and if they are challenged appropriately from a development perspective. Youth wrestling coaches and program administrators must have a clear understanding of the youth wrestling program mission and the overarching goals of the program. Hopefully those program goals will include having fun, being with friends, learning basic wrestling skills, and maintaining an educational athletic setting.

The NWCA Youth Coaching Manual contains discussions on recruiting and retaining wrestlers for the youth setting. And as I have mentioned before and will continue to reinforce, I believe the coach is the greatest influence in getting children to wrestle year after year (helping retention). In the perfect world, we should have our most talented individuals in that setting, preferably someone with a degree in physical educator.

My esteemed colleague and youth sport law professor, Dr. Tom Appenzeller maintains that sport was never really designed for children. As we look throughout history, men competed in sport and children played. It is essential that in order to retain youth in wrestling that the youth coach has a basic understanding of motor development. Hopefully, the coach can implement a “teaching games for understanding” (TGFU) curriculum approach to the sport (i.e., teaching wrestling skills in a game-like setting). And finally we must find a coach who has an understanding that children play and men/women wrestle. Play and having fun is the key to retention at the youth level!

“Find a way and make it happen”….dj

Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind


  1. Ewing, M., & Seefeldt, V. (1989). Participation and attrition patterns in American agency-sponsored and interscholastic sports: An executive summary. North Palm Beach, FL: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.


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