Posts Tagged ‘Play’

Kids Don’t Know How to Play

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Young People Don’t Know How to Play!

Dr. John Mayer

President-ISPA

Socrates said, “Play is the work of the child.” One of the dilemmas of today’s young people is that they often don’t know how to play. Yes, that’s right, kids don’t know how to play! And this condition is getting worse as kids are buried into technological devices as their definition of play. So, when they are among other kids, they behave awkward, fumble around and it becomes not fun. So, we witness a revolving door as they retreat back into their technological abyss.

Professionals who work in the field of sports know that today’s youth do not get enough physical activity and physical interaction with other young people. The sad condition that our schools are eliminating PE and Health classes certainly doesn’t help this problem.

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine by Peggy Orenstein titled, Kindergarten Cram. (NYT, May 3, 2009) reminded me of an article I wrote approximately four years ago on youth and play. That article of mine had a similar title to the one I am presenting here. In that article, as I am reporting here, kids just don’t know how to play. Orenstein would attribute this to the fact that they simply don’t get the chance to play like they used to. Her NYT article of May 3rd points out that Kindergarteners spend an average of 19 minutes per day in free play in comparison to 89 minutes learning literacy, 47 minutes in math, and 21 minutes in test preparation skills. Orenstein further points out that all this concern over cramming knowledge into the heads of young people in place of play is actually in vain because most experts and studies show that any advantage gained by this over-emphasis on learning is lost by middle school. She also points out that by not encouraging play valuable social and emotional skills are lost so much so that by age 15 academic achievement plummets and youth are more likely to exhibit emotional problems. She cites that authorities such as Daniel Pink have proposed that the viability of the United States in the global economy rests on the accentuation of qualities such as versatility, imagination, creativity, vision and playfulness.

But, I am probably preaching to the choir here. As fellow professionals serving sports, we all agree that kids need more activity and need to be engaged through sports participation in moving their bodies. So, let’s take a look at how this impacts us as sports professionals and think about ways to change this negative equation.

What implication does this have for us?

The areas we most see the effects of this play deficit are:

Team participation– youth have a harder time being a team player

Motivation– it is harder than ever to motivate young people

Competition– young people do not know how to handle competition

Sportsmanship– young people lack the social skills of being sportsmanlike when participating

Coachability– so much of this results in young athletes that are harder and harder to coach

Quitting– for the young person, all this translates into a youth who will not stay with athletics or become easily distracted by other diversions in life and not stay with their sport

How This Can Change:

Leadership- Adults, and certainly all of us, need to demonstrate strong leadership. Let’s get young people active and out into the playing fields, the courts and gyms…..and let’s not accept NO for an answer. Physical activity should be a part of every family’s lifestyle. But, we adults must make it such.

There is nothing wrong with insisting that young people get away from the electronics and be active with other family members. They may grunt and groan at first, but a strong leader can make the unpopular decision for the good of the family. This is true leadership.

Modeling- Not complicated to explain, we adults need to be more physically active and lead our youth into a new lifestyle. Show them the joy of moving around and playing.

Teaching– When you see negative behaviors during play, call it out to the young person and show them a better way immediately. Everyone, coaches, mom’s and dad’s, professionals helping teams/schools, should call out poor social skills when you see it and use it as a learning moment. Encourage moms and dad’s to stay and watch practices, not jut drop kids off and speed away. Then parents can given feedback to young people after the practice or game. But, don’t be the negative, mean-spirited, “Vince Lombardi” coach or parent. That type of adult style just doesn’t work with today’s youth. In fact, it will turn them off to sports and physical activity altogether. They will retreat back into the hibernation of electronics land.

Lobbying- Let’s get more physical activity back into our schools.

Research- Let’s build a strong case to prove the value of play and sports. Peggy Orenstein’s article mentioned an organization called the Alliance for Childhood. Use ISPA, with our publishing division and CEU program to educate on the value of play and sports. Send us your research and ideas for publication, from newsletter articles to CEU courses to books.

So, I end by going back to Socrates. He would say that young people are not doing their jobs. (Playing) Now, let’s do our job and get young people more active.