The ‘enjoyment’ time out

Enjoyment is a funny thing. It’s a personal thing. What makes something enjoyable for one person, might not be the reason it is enjoyable for another. I remember as a teenager sitting in the back of a school minibus having this exact conversation with my teammates after competing in a orienteering event. The four of us in the team all enjoyed orienteering very much, but for very different reasons. Toby enjoyed the competition and the winning, James enjoyed the challenge of plotting a quick course, Arun enjoyed being able to clearly rank himself against others and I just enjoyed being out in nature. I mean what else was I going to do with my Sundays?

Children cite “fun” or enjoyment as the primary reason for participation in organized sport and its absence as the number-one reason for leaving it. Amanda Visek and her colleagues have investigated what makes sport fun for children. Specifically they looked at players, parents and coaches of youth football in the US and concept mapped what made being involved in the sport fun. What they found was a complex answer of 81 ‘fun determinants’ including making a good play, playing rough, well organised practices and end of season awards. These 81 discrete factors could then be placed into four fundamental tenets of youth sports; contextual fundamentals (Practices and Games), internal fundamentals (Learning and Improving, Trying Hard, and Mental Bonuses), social fundamentals (Team Friendships, Team Rituals, and Positive Team Dynamics), and external fundamentals (Positive Coaching, Game Time Support, and Swag). The conclusion states that these determinants may only be specific to football and therefore other sports such as athletics or gymnastics might have their own fun determinants.

In January I had the pleasure of spending a day with Jeff Giles. We spent our time together talking about reimagining Physical Education and School Sport in our respective settings. He mentioned he was trying to put the emphasis of enjoyment back on to the children. Giving them some autonomy to adapt and shape the practices or the games they were involved in. One of the many questions I took away from that day was ‘how can we plan for enjoyment?’.

In the past I thought fun a distraction from learning. I felt fun and enjoyment was an excuse to make PE a respite from the real learning that was happening within school, rather than complimenting it. However Scott Kretchmar’s writing on meaningful PE has challenged that idea. That fun and enjoyment are a part of an interconnected series of experiences that are individual to the learner which also include increased motor competence, social interaction, challenge and delight. If the experiences we provide children in PE and Youth Sport aren’t enjoyable, do we lose them forever? As Mark O’Sullivan recently tweeted ‘The responsibility of a child’s first coach is pure and simple – inspire them to play independently of you.’ So how do we as PE Teachers and Youth Sport Coaches plan for enjoyment? How do we ensure that it is not viewed as the only focus of a physical education lesson or youth sport coaching session but rather as an effective vehicle for, and therefore integral component of, meaningful experiences? How do we ensure it is neither ignored, nor prioritized at the expense of Kretchmar’s other criteria for meaningful experiences?

This term I have been coaching the U13 School football team. If I want the children to enjoy my football sessions, I need to provide them with the opportunity to enjoy my football sessions. As enjoyment is such a unique and personal feeling how can I do that for over 40 players at the same time? I took Jeff’s idea of putting them emphasis of enjoyment back onto the children through the ‘enjoyment’ time out. If at anytime in my session a child wasn’t enjoying it (to the point they wanted to stop being involved in that practice) they could adapt what they were doing. I modelled how they could do this:

1.     Player calls a time out
2.    Must clearly explain the reason why they are not enjoying the practice/SSG
3.    As a group come up with possible solutions to improve levels of enjoyment
4.    Implement chosen solution
5.    Reflect whether the intervention had improved enjoyment

At the beginning I supervised what was happening when a time out for lack of enjoyment was called. I stood, listened and tried to support the conversation, adaptation and intervention. As time went on by and the squad became more accustomed to calling these time outs, I stepped back and let them get on with it. Typical examples were that they weren’t getting passed to, that I hadn’t put goals into a game (they all loved to shoot) or that the sides were not fair. These were quickly resolved and had the added benefit of increasing social engagement and problem solving, which slowly started to transfer from practice to matches. However there were two key issues with the enjoyment time out. Firstly some of the issues were not quickly resolved and more time was spent talking (or arguing) than practising. I was ensure of whether to step in and take control or let them work it out. Secondly that some of the adaptions they implemented effectively changed the purpose of the practice. Our focus this season has been on creating and denying space when off the ball. The vast majority of the small sided games I’ve planned for have tried to make this key a key focus, however some of the changes the children have made have ended up changing it. This hasn’t sat well with me, as some then are working on this focus and others aren’t. I’ve wrestled with the decision whether to step in and change the game back to it’s original purpose, but so far have stayed away from that.

There are lots of things to improve with the ‘enjoyment’ time out. However it has allowed me as a football coach this term to focus on the teaching and learning and the children to focus on their enjoyment. Perhaps this is the compromise as PE Teachers and youth sport coaches we need to make to ensure meaningful experiences for all?

4 thoughts on “The ‘enjoyment’ time out

  1. I coach ice hockey, have for a long time and am enjoying it more now. In the course of a game we have two short period breaks of about 2-4 minutes. I use these as stress breaks, U10 can be very stressful and in America we always win. Really, no one in America has ever lost. This is a lot on our shoulders. When kids show stress they know a break is coming. They have danced ,played games or planed plays in this time. But I do let them know it’s their game and the enjoyment is relative to engagement. I like the idea of break in practice, we do work to keep the stress low there. Thanks for the read , I enjoy you thoughts


  2. Another really interesting piece and a couple of thoughts I would like to share on it.

    Firstly on the concept that fun might be a distraction to learning – I always emphasise fun as a facilitator of learning. I remember in school having an excellent, but very strict German teacher. I also had an equally excellent, but quirky French teacher, who tended to take the path less travelled and engage us in different fun ways to learn. To this day, I love French and won’t miss an opportunity to spin a couple of words. German, on the other hand, is a slightly fearful memory.

    Secondly, it has been my experience that often children who don’t excel academically, come into their own in a sports environment, that they see the structure differently and it is often their means to excel. In this context, sport is absolutely as important as academics and allows a different form of intelligence to come to the fore.

    Thirdly, on your core teaching goals being somewhat derailed by player timeouts and adjustments – congratulations on not stepping in. Sometimes things change because not everyone on our team is ready for what we are rolling out, and letting them move sideways gives a chance for everyone to get there in the appropriate time for them and in their comfort zone. I believe that ultimately a coach, especially a team coach, must never loose sight of the fact that a team is made up of a group of individuals and that it is hugely important to respect and work with this.


    1. Hi Barbara. Thank you for taking the time to provide some deep and meaningful feedback. I just want to pick up on your third point. Previously I would have a start and end goal in sight. This would mean that I wouldn’t be attentive to the information my group of players would be providing me. That alternative possible directions would emerged out of what I had planned and shared with them. Perhaps it was a confidence issue, or perhaps a misguided ideal of what a coach should be, but I’m much more comfortable now to see what emerges and pick up where things go.


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