Thanks to The Genius of Play for encouraging this discussion and sponsoring this post.
My boys have been playing sports for years and I’ve written, in the past, about how important sports are to our family. There are many benefits to playing sports like learning the importance of teamwork, learning to be responsible, realizing the importance of practice, getting exercise, learning to lose graciously, and developing friendships. Recently though, I was asked if I considered sports as playtime for kids and I definitely think that sports can count as play, but not always.
When children kick around a soccer ball at recess, sports are play. When kids shoot baskets on the basketball hoop at the end of their driveway, sports are play. When a group of neighborhood kids head to the baseball diamond to play an unorganized game of ball, sports are play. When kids join a recreational sports league that stresses fun over winning, sports are play.
Play is fun so if a child is having fun while playing sports then yes, sports can count as playtime for kids. The problem comes though when sports stop being fun. There recently was a survey done by the National Alliance of Youth Sports that showed that 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” To be honest, I don’t think it’s that sports stopped being fun but the expectations that adults put on children and teens that turn sports from play to work. Though Jacob still enjoys playing numerous sports year-round, I sometimes feel like this competition and pressure to perform perfectly has started to show even at his level. Jacob just turned nine and has already been in situations where coaches got angry when they didn’t get a hit, didn’t make a goal or weren’t running fast enough on the field.
This breaks my heart. The pressure young kids are facing to compete, perform perfectly and specialize in one sport are, among other things, causing our children to stop playing sports at a time in their young lives when they really could benefit from the things that sports teach them. The good news is that we, as parents and coaches, can remind our older children of how much fun sports can be and make sports an enjoyable activity like it once was for them.
Here are some ideas we can all do (myself included):
- We can encourage them to play sports they enjoy regardless of whether they are the best on the field or not.
- We can encourage them to keep trying when they get frustrated.
- We can remind them that it’s just a game and if they don’t win that is okay.
- We can encourage them to get off their screens and go outside to play ball with their friends.
- We can cheer them on with encouraging words even if they don’t get that hit or make that basket.
- We can join them outside and play catch or kick around a ball with them.
- We can enroll them in sports leagues that prioritize fun over winning.
- We can remind them that the only competition there needs to be is the competition with their past self to try to be better than they were yesterday.
- We can support the friendships they make through sports.
- We can remind them that their sports performance does not determine their worth.
- We can encourage them to develop other non-athletic talents alongside playing sports.
- We can help children learn to accept their mistakes and help them discover what can be learned through the losses they experience.
- We can ensure our children have time to play outside of sports.
I believe that if we make sports fun again for our kids, sports will once again become play. So what do you think? Do you consider sports play?
The Genius of Play, a not-for-profit organization that encourages play, recently asked this question (and others) as part of their new Genius of Play video campaign. Here are what some other parents think about the topic:
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below and I hope you’ll join me in making sports fun again for our kids. Check out the Genius Of Play site for more play related ideas!