John O'Sullivan is the founder of the Changing the Game Project and one of the leading experts in Youth Sports information.  For more information about John, check out the interview he did for the Elitefts™ Sports Performance Podcast. 

What Youth Sports can Learn from Video Games

On a recent sunny Saturday, I took my kids out to the local park to play soccer with some friends. They ran, they jumped, and they competed hard. They laughed, they schemed, and they made the rules. Everyone played, no one was excluded from the game, and all the kids tried and failed over and over again without anyone telling them what to do, and without anyone critiquing their mistakes.

They learned by doing, they played without fear, and they figured it out on their own terms, and at their own pace. They had fun!

Next door to the park was a soccer field, and my attention was drawn to the organized practice taking place with kids of a similar age. What a different scene it was. While a bunch of kids stood in line and waited their turn, a few kids played. Every time they made a mistake, the play was stopped and they were told what they did wrong. Every movement took place under the watchful eye of a coach and the parents, who sat nearby shouting out a few instructions of their own. A mistake cost you your place on the field, and laughter elicited a scolding from the coach to “focus and pay attention.”

On one field there were kids smiling, having fun while learning, and simply playing a sport. It was all about the kids.

On the other there were kids training, scowling, and working while trying to learn a sport. It was about the needs of the adults.

Isn’t it a bit odd that the scenario we happily fork over our hard earned dollars for is the second one, which is the one least likely to keep our kids learning, engaged, and improving?

We are losing 3 out of 4 young athletes from organized sports by the age of 13 and the reason is that sports far too often looks like the second scenario, and not the first. And where do they go? Many, especially boys, turn to video games.

parents play soccer with kidsNow I hate video games. I see no value in them for my kids, as aside from the violence and lack of respect for humanity portrayed in many of them, they take away from far more healthy pursuits, namely an active lifestyle. It scares me, as the father of a boy, that the average teenage boy plays 17 hours of video games a week.

Yet I am also intrigued, because there must be something here. Why do so many kids CHOOSE to play video games over all the other things they could be doing?

Well, sadly there are many reasons a child would rather play video games then sports:

  • Video games put the kids in control, while in youth sports the adults take over.
  • Video games are action packed 100% of the time and inclusive of all participants (especially their friends), while organized sports have huge numbers of kids sitting on the bench or standing in line and not participating. Throw in the push to form “select” teams and younger and younger ages and there go their friends too.
  • Video games allow kids to create their own reality based upon their values and motivations, while youth sports today attempts to impose adult values and priorities upon them.
  • Video games allow children to experiment and fail without fear of criticism and critiques, while youth sports rarely allow such space, especially in the “competitive” arena

In a nutshell, in video games the needs, values and priorities of the child are at the center of the experience. They want to have fun. They want to be with friends. They want to participate and they want to be active. The experience belongs to them.

In youth sports, the needs, values and priorities of the adults often take precedence. They want to win. They want to focus on long-term goals. They focus on trophies and medals, all-star teams and scholarships. That is not to say kids do not value these things. What I am saying is that for the vast majority of kids, they are not high on the list of what makes sports fun.

Read the rest of this outstanding article here.