How to make youth sports fun again

Aly Marzonie, Rachel Shellenback
Aly Marzonie, right, and Rachel Shellenback, second from right, team captains of the New Trier High School girls' soccer team, kick a ball with teammates in Skokie, Ill., in May 2012.
Martha Irvine | AP Photo 2012

Participation in youth sports is declining.

According to data released by the Aspen Institute's Sports and Society Program, almost 45 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played a team sport regularly in 2008. In 2016, that number was 37 percent.

Researchers say the decline has a lot to do with the pressure to win.

MPR News host Angela Davis sat down with two former athletes and coaches to talk about how parents' overinvolvement at games could ruin the experience for their children.

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• Dan Harrison — Cottage Grove Athletic Association president and baseball coach at Park High School in Cottage Grove.

• Lea B. Olsen — founder of Rethink the Win and sport broadcaster for the Lynx, Timberwolves and high school sports.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

More from our listeners:

My 13-year-old just finished training to be a soccer ref - I sit on the sidelines and watch him work. I want to make sure he doesn't get totally destroyed by crazy parents!

— Jason DeRusha (@DeRushaJ) May 17, 2019

I was a soccer coach for 10 year old girls. I thought the vast vast majority of all parents, for us and against us, were great fun loving people.

— dootabb (@dootabb) May 17, 2019

no negatives immediately after. Ask them how they played. Did they have fun? What did they learn? What would they change about how they played? Be positive even when telling them where they went wrong. Also go to their games. It's not a babysitting service.

— Tiffany Terrion (@tiffany_terrion) May 17, 2019

Schools and clubs should set rules for the parents and kick them and the kid off the team if (#) of infractions occur.

— Gloria A (@gloriaanderson8) May 17, 2019

I coached youth soccer & as a young coach, I found parent conduct upsetting & discouraging. I had a team of 12 year old girls who refused to play positions on the parent side of the field. When their own kids sit down instead of play, I draw the line.

— Kathryn Joy (@katjoyyyy) May 17, 2019

My co-coach took his 6 yo son and the other players home and told me about it the next day at practice. I have learned over the years to tune out the crowd, which is the best advice for young officials. They are not part of the game, so don't make them part of the game. (2 of 2)

— Bill Breeden (@breeden_math) May 17, 2019

I have been called every profane name in the book because of a game I have had to throw coaches out of 3rd and 4th grade games for walking out to center court to calling me a "stupid college girl", screaming that I'm not being fair while their kids are trying to play.

— Mrs. Otway (@MrsOts218) May 17, 2019

is the best thing parents can do. Those are the kids that become the best athletes because they are resilient and focus on their own growth. These games are supposed to be fun and a place to learn. Screaming at the people trying to keep it safe and fair does not accomplish that.

— Mrs. Otway (@MrsOts218) May 17, 2019

On the phones:

Carlos in Minneapolis said that when he played in a soccer league in Mexico, parents were required to play drums during the game. "You don't have time to scream at the kids when you are cheering for the kids."

Walt from St. Paul has coached 4th to 7th graders. His strategy for making sure the kids had fun involved keeping track of personal achievements rather than score — assigning them improvement goals.