Henry Russell, a longtime college football coach, once told his UCLA football players, "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything." After a long pause he then exclaimed, "Men, it's the only thing!" According to new research, kids who plays sports nowadays don't consider winning in high regard.

The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., identified a number of 'fun factors' after asking 236 participants (142 kid soccer players, 37 coaches, and 57 parents) to list all of the things that make playing sports fun for kids. Winning and other mental bonuses ranked near the bottom of what was considered fun in sports.

After the participants listed the determinants of fun, they were then asked to sort the 81 factors on their importance, frequency, and feasibility. According to the results, the four 'fundamental tenets to creating fun' include internal, external, social, and contextual factors. The top three factors that made sports fun were: being a good sport, trying hard, and positive coaching. Other fun factors that fell under the fundamental tenets included: learning and improving, game time support, games, practices, team friendships, mental bonuses, team rituals, and 'swag' (new jerseys and equipment or trophies and medals). Surprisingly, winning and 'swag' ranked near the bottom.

With all of the provided information, the researchers then developed concept maps called FUN MAPS, which portrayed the results three-dimensionally to help provide an overarching picture of what kids considered fun. Although the kid respondents were considered soccer players, they also played other sports.

"When we think about fun we think about this abstract, elusive thing, and now we're trying to define it," said Amanda Visek, the author of the study, in this USA Today article. "If you look at the map, it gives you a 360-degree picture of what fun is ... and we have displayed things in one picture that's easy for anyone to understand."

However, the importance of the study was to identify the factors that make sports fun for kids in order to help increase participation. Nearly one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese and participation in sports is shown to drop by 70% when kids reach middle school, according to the research. By zoning in on the top fun factors, the researchers believe that sports programs throughout the country can increase the presence of young/student athletes.

The study, "The Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation," was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. You can read more about the research in this GW Public Health news release as well.