4-H and Youth


Adults help make livestock projects a great experience for youth

by Holly Spooner and Jean Woloshuk, Extension Specialists, WVU Extension Service

We have found that adults involved with 4-H and FFA activities truly have the best interests of youth at heart. As we head into the summer fair and show season, it is important to understand the ways parents and other volunteers can make livestock and horse projects a positive youth development experience.

While earning the grand champion ribbon at the county fair might be a 4-H member’s personal goal, the goals of our 4-H and FFA livestock projects is broader. These goals include building life skills in responsibility, commitment, communication, decision-making, and sportsmanship, while learning project-specific skills.

As youths increase their skills, the role of parents and volunteers must change. In the field of sports psychology, this role is termed “optimal parent push.”

Introduction stage

When a child is new to showing livestock or horses, the adult will need to help with basic skills. It is important to remember that it is the child’s project and that he or she should be the one doing the work whenever it is safe to do so. In this stage, adults must seek opportunities to make an activity fun and give little attention to winning or placing.

It is important in the early stages to avoid pressuring the child, but the adult must stay active in a supporting and encouraging role. After the show or event, the parent or leader should avoid rehashing the situation but instead focus on skills the child gained and the joy he or she experienced.

After skills are learned

After the child learns the foundation skills of fitting and showing, the adult should motivate him or her to learn more. Studies suggest that youths lose interest in activities as their ability to advance their skills dwindles. Adults should never force young people to participate in a project. But after a project is begun, adults should instill in the youth the importance of completing the work.

For youths who have a strong competitive drive, it is important for the adult to ensure that the activity remains fun and to insist on good sportsmanship.


Good sportsmanship is best taught by example. Adults should not make negative comments about other youths (or adults) and their animals or projects. Youths should be encouraged to help others with their projects and to participate in team activities.

Adults need to stay unemotional when youths lose or make mistakes as well as when they win. Adults need to celebrate success with youths, but they must keep in mind that success does not always mean winning a blue ribbon.