How to Create Engagement and Fun in Youth Sports — Goals & Feedback

Video Games have three key features that engage participants and youth sports tend to miss out on these features. . .


Regardless of what video game you are playing, there is always a clear objective.

Take Super Mario for example — the objective is to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser. In order to do that, you have to go through a series of smaller challenges to work your way up until you get to fight Bowser and rescue Princess Toadstool.

In Grand Theft Auto, there is a theme and therein lies the mission — for example in San Andreas, the main character has been framed for murder and is on his way to seek revenge and dominate the streets. In order to do that, he has to complete a series of smaller challenges and missions that will allow him to achieve the overall objective.

Every game has a clear objective, supported by a series of smaller challenges or missions. This allows the participant to either zoom out and see the big picture or zoom in and focus on a small simple step that once completed, the participant can then move on to the next small simple step.

Within traditional practice environments, this is missing.

  • What is the objective of the practice?
  • What is the objective of the quarter or season
  • Do we inform our players and teams?
  • Are all players aware and aligned with that objective?

It’s not enough that the coaches know what the goal is, the players (learners) also need to know it and own it. Once we have identified the overarching objective, we can then begin to set smaller missions that they complete in practice. What mission do the players need to accomplish in today’s practice?


The second thing that stands out in video games is that the feedback is clear and instant. It’s not sugar-coated or presented in a long-winded confusing manner that misses the mark completely. It is direct, non-judgmental and obvious.

In Super Mario Bros. if you fail to jump over the little annoying Goombas or jump onto the Piranha Plant, you instantly know that it is not a good thing and next time you’ll try to avoid it.

That doesn’t mean that you will always manage to do it, but you know that Goombas are not your friends, and so you avoid them or jump over them.

In San Andreas, you quickly learn that your actions have consequences, whether that is the wrath of the Police or the Mob.

You know when you’ve gone over the time limit for the mission or what you can get away with quickly and instantly.

It’s the same in almost any game you play. There is instant feedback provided.

Youth Sports provide these feedback moments naturally, especially when you design an appropriate task. If players double-dribble and you blow the whistle calling a violation, they will learn to stop doing it relatively soon. If a player makes a pass and it goes out of bounds, they know instantly it is a mistake.

The unclear feedback comes from us, as coaches, when we provide vague phrases such as, “Good Job” or “Stop Travelling” without necessarily offering a consequence. I am not talking about sprints, rather I am talking about something as simple as blowing the whistle and letting the other team have the basketball.

Depending on the level (age-group or ability), our job as coaches is to provide a safe, learning environment that sparks creativity and encourages curiosity. This means that when we provide verbal feedback, the majority of it should be based on effort, values and behaviours.

In my opinion, an issue that I see often in youth practices is the introduction and emphasis of technical instructions too early on in the process. The below article dives into some more details behind this.

When this happens, the feedback moves away from effort, values and behaviours and more into the technical and movement pattern side. Now, the coaches are stopping the games continuously to fix technical issues, which takes the kids out of Exploration mode and into Survival mode of Learning.

Video games don’t do this — When a player makes a mistake, they lose a life but get to continue playing through the mistake. If they lose three lives in Super Mario Bros., they get to go back to a fixed point in the game and resume playing.

In Grand Theft Auto, when they fail a mission, they get an option to restart the mission. The feedback is clear on what they needed to do, and they get a chance to go again. There are no technical or detailed instructions on what they needed to do.

However, players have the option to go online or search for cheat codes or hidden menus to discover ways to get by a certain opponent or move by a certain level. The trick is that the player gets to make that choice.

This results in going back to a specific point in the game and starting again. However, depending on their effort or an action, they can earn back a life. There is no major consequence or sugar-coated feedback. It’s clear and straightforward enough.

Stay tuned for the next part which looks at the third feature that video games have and we, unfortunately, miss out on in Youth Sports Practices.

How to Create Engagement in Youth Sports Series:

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