“If the focus is on winning, and if the rules are rigid and external, the players are not players, but workers”.These are the insightful words of Drs. Cosby Rogers and Janet Sawyers in their classic book, Play in the Lives of Children, first published in 1988 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org).How many times in your life have you seen young children emotionally crushed because they played on the team that lost?In such circumstances, were they really playing?Were they experiencing the joy that comes with authentic play where scores and being first or the best are not what is important?
Many sport programs for pre-adolescent youth are designed on the misguided notion that children are miniature adults.Think about it.These programs have ignored the rich research base on child development, learning, and play.Many youth sport programs have just watered down the adult game a little, hoping to maintain the “integrity” of the professional game while maintaining the interests of the children who develop their physical skills earlier than others.A growing number of pediatric sport scientists are questioning this approach as they believe this is a major contributor to the high dropout rate from sport by our youth.
In the U.S. 75% of the children participating in a sport program at age 8 have dropped out by the age of 12.Numerous studies suggest why this happens.Lack of fun is always the number one reason. This dropout is viewed by some to be a tragedy because the onset of adolescence is seen as the time when sport participation makes its most profound contributions to youth development – physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and, a few brave souls would add, spiritually.In addition, participation on a sport team during adolescence and under the guidance of a coach committed to youth development can serve as a critical social immunization against gang membership on one hand and social isolation on the other.
Child development and learning specialists are stressing the importance of putting play back into the playing of sport games.Before adults began organizing youth sport programs, children organized their own sport games.They saw this activity as play.They were attracted to it because it was play.During this activity, children practiced and learned, through play, the basics of group decision-making, the art of compromise, the essence of responsibility and the spirit of fair play.
What is play? Although there is no one definition that encompasses all of the elements of play or that satisfies all academic disciplines, there are some agreed upon characteristics.They are:
1) playis voluntary – it is not externally imposed by someone else;
2) play is pleasurable—enjoyed for its own sake – not for any externally granted rewards – or threats;
3) playis participatory – it is not a spectator activity;
4) play is symbolic andfacilitates elaboration and complexity – it is a creative and not a static activity;
5) play focuses on process (the activity itself) and not on outcomes (e.g. winning); and
6) play is free of external rules – in authentic play, the rules are created and agreed upon by the players.
All of these elements of play are embedded in the Sport4All Programs where parents are encouraged to be as playful as possible while supporting their child’s involvement.
Although it is not possible to create a completely authentic play experience for children in an adult-led, group program, we attempt to come as close as is humanly possible in the Sport4All Program.We attempt to recreate as much as possible the “sandlot” play experience where the players make choices based upon what is interesting and meaningful to them.We encourage the players to create and modify games and rules.And, we encourage the players to view each other as playmates to enjoy, not adversaries to defeat!Sport4All is play-based sport.
Please support your child’s playfulness and creativity as he or she plays…and plays…and plays!
Sport4All...Starting Kids Out Right! Tel: 301-325-9166