What is 'Fun'? (inclusive behaviours)

When asked what makes a good after-school club, PE lesson or football club session, many children will say FUN!

But what do we really mean by fun? Try asking a group of children what fun is, and you will get a variety of answers, which may or may not help you understand what they mean. However, try asking the question the other way round: What is not fun? and you will get a really clear understanding of what they need and want.

According to MoF focus groups with girls aged 9-11, fun is:

  • Taking it in turns, sharing equipment properly
  • Allowing us to choose our teams, make our own games, keep our own score
  • Following the rules, not cheating, saying sorry if you hurt someone
  • Being able to show what we can do
  • Not having the biggest, fastest etc dominate the games

It sounds simple. But so often these fun behaviours do not happen in children's sport, and because of this we put some kids off. A major role of the coach is to ensure that behaviours and inclusive, and everyone is able to join in at their level, without feeling put off by the poor behaviour of others.

So MoF coaches should watch out for behaviours, like a lifeguard watches over a swimming pool. Find a physical position in the hall where you can see everything, and look out for things like:

  • Cheating and not playing fairly
  • Being phsyically aggressive
  • Teasing and name-calling
  • Same child always playing in goal
  • Some children not being involved by their team-mates

If you spot, some of these things, then here are some ways to deal with it:

  • Talk to children about their behaviours. This could be individual children, a pair of children or all of those playing in the game. Intervene at whatever level you need to, make it clear what is expected.
  • Be clear on the rules.
  • Introduce scoring systems where children need to use each other in order to do well in games. For example, a goal counts a three points if everyone on your team touches the ball in the build-up; or the same child can't score two goals in a row.
  • Switch children between pitches or games or teams, in order to find a balance which works, where they get on with each other, and are involved in games at their level.


We need to understand that we have certain prejudices and probably have favourites among the group, even if we try hard not to. MoF research has looked at coach interventions in our Sunday sessions and found that some children get a lot more interaction, feedback and engagement with the coach than others. It is typical for the highest-ability, most challenging and/or most confident children to get the most of our attention. We need to recognise when this is happening, and ensure that all children get an even share of our time and efforts.

Our own research at MoF has shown that coaches don't usually give a equal amount of attention to all children in sessions. We studied interventions , attention and feedback in six sessions with three different coaches, and we found that a handful of children get over three-quarters of the coach attention. This was typically because the coach responds to the first child to put their up (during Q&A), and the coach responds to certain children's behaviour and requests for attention. The children who are struggling technically and socially get attention, and the children who are most confident and able get some attention. We need to ensure we are aware of who is getting our attention in sessions, and be pro-active in seeking out opportunities to connect with those who don't usually get our time and energy. This links to planning: Coaches should consider each child in their session and plan to connect with certain children during the session.

The cornerstones of Self_Esteem

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves" - Sir Edmund Hilary

The two cornerstones of self-esteem are a Sense of Worthiness and a Sense of Belonging.

Think about a place / group / team / job which raises your self-esteem and enhances your confidence. It is highly likely that you (a) feel relaxed and at home there (belonging) and (b) feel valued there, that are some things you are good at and those things are recognised and praised (worthiness).

Coaches at MoF need to understand this relationship between Belonging and Worthiness and help children to feel these senses throughout their MoF experience. This is important for a number of reasons. Essentially, our aim is to develop confident, creative, skilful players - and this aim is much more likely to be reached if children feel a worthy and valued part of our programme. Helping children to see themselves as valuable and worthy will have benefits for them far beyond their football development. Confident children will be able to input more into their school education and be less afraid to try new things in other areas of their life and learning.

How do we help children feel a sense of belonging and worthiness?

  • Coaches should learn players names, and use players names.
  • Be friendly! A warm welcoming smile will go a long way to making a child feel they have arrived in a good place.
  • Use labelled praise – use a name, say why something was good. (“Louis, I loved the way you passed that ball to Danny! It went right into his path!”). Or praise the effort or idea involved in a success, or in something that didn't work as expected.
  • Include all players in demonstrations, even players who aren’t high-ability.
  • For players who are often naughty or misbehave, it is particularly important to praise them when they are doing something good. Catch them doing something good.
  • Introduce yourself to the child's parents and make them feel at home. A parent who is supportive of us and speaks positively about the MoF programme will help us make the child feel at home.
  • Make sure all players feel able to make mistakes - praise effort in trying new things as well as success. "Confidence comes not from always being right, but from not fearing to be wrong" (Peter T. McIntyre)

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Mark Carter


07772 716 876