From one generation to the next youth sports has changed dramatically. When we (meaning current sports parents) were young, sports was something you did in the summer because your parents wanted you outside. Maybe you played sports in high school, but you might have played a different sport in the fall and in the spring, not just one sport all year round. Or you didn’t belong to any “real” team, but you played pickup games with the neighborhood kids every weekend. But in recent years youth sports has changed dramatically. Even those who are against early specialization can’t argue that more and more kids are playing one sport all year round, are getting onto more high-powered (and costly) travel teams, and getting very serious about their athletic career at a younger and younger age.
And while we at SportsSignup are always glad to see kids playing sports, we can’t help but wonder; are young kids missing out on something by not just casually playing sports with their friends?
Here are 3 things that casual play can teach youth athletes:
Playing sports is fun.
At the end of the day, the most important thing sports teaches kids is that being active is fun. How many of us as adults hate to exercise? Well what is sports if not exercise? If kids love to play sports simply because they love to do it, and not because mom and dad are making them do it, then that’s a love they’ll carry with them their whole lives! It would certainly make staying active as they grow up easier. With so many kids quitting sports by the time they are 13 we need to reinforce the love of the game in our young players. Many speculate that the pressure parents and coaches put on youth athletes is what pushes them out of the game. Maybe if they have more casual play time they’d stick with sports for longer.
You have to want it for yourself.
No one is going to make you start a pickup game with your friends (except maybe your friends), but there is certainly not going to be a coach or parent on the sidelines calling out plays or telling you to hustle. When you’re just playing for fun you have to push yourself to keep up. This intrinsic motivation is something that you’ll need your whole life, and not just in sports. Being a self-motivating person can help you in school, at work, in your personal relationships and more. You have to be willing to get up, do the work, and push yourself because it’s what you want to do, not just because you are trying to please someone else. Casual play is just that, casual and unorganized, so if kids want to get a game going they have to make it happen!
Casual play takes the pressure away.
Everyone needs a mental and physical break, especially if they are a year-round athlete or belong to a highly competitive team. Taking a break doesn’t mean that your child has to turn into a couch potato, but casual play gives them the chance to just relax and not worry about impressing a coach or trainer, get upset when they make a mistake on the field, let nerves get the best of them in a tight spot, and all the other pressures that can come with playing sports. Casual play is a safe place for them to make mistakes, try new plays, and just have fun without worrying too hard about the final score (not that casual play can’t be competitive!).