Michigan Youth Hockey’s Twitter account asked me a question this week that has been on my mind. They asked “what (are) your thoughts on youth spending more time playing video games than playing outside?”
These kinds of questions really get me going because I remember how much we played road hockey, tennis ball baseball, lacrosse wall ball, touch football and pick up soccer ALL OF THE TIME. We were always out at the school yard, on the street, or down at the ball park playing something. We loved it!! And when the weather was no good, we played Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which was a board game based on actual players stats. Strat-O was our version of video games in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. (Good part to Strat-O-Matic was we had to keep track of all the stats with just a calculator - it was math tutoring in a box!)
I truly believe that kids these days would MUCH prefer to be outside playing stuff than sitting on the couch playing stuff. The problem is that parents these days just don’t let kids run loose in the streets like our parents did. I think the video game problem stems more from parental attitudes than the attitudes of young people.
And I get it. I have kids too. And it just seems way too dangerous for them to be out on their own. We have this deep seeded feeling that something bad is going to happen if we are not watching them every single minute of the day. And maybe we should wrap them in bubble wrap just to make sure they don’t hurt themselves.
Ok. I do get a little facetious about this. It is a fascinating phenomenon that kids just don’t get out of the house enough. Today’s parents are simply not willing to allow their children to venture out on their own like we used to do when we were young.
That said, here is where our athletes are missing out not going out and playing.
1) Simple conditioning. Things like riding a bike to school or to the park. Running for an hour playing road hockey, hide and seek, tag, touch football. Outdoor activity will always help in cardiovascular conditioning.
2) Strength, agility and balance. Again, outdoor activity, especially playing pick-up sports develops all of these core competencies when it comes to the development of athletic ability.
3) Spatial awareness. All outdoor games and sports involve some sort of spatial awareness. Whether it be moving to space in a soccer game, getting underneath a fly ball, or hitting a receiver with a thrown football. This type of awareness is certainly learnable in a practice setting but in free play, this awareness is happening continually.
4) Hand-eye coordination. Hitting a baseball, catching baseballs and footballs, trapping a soccer ball or a ball on a stick are all great opportunities to hone hand-eye coordination.
5) Allowing for creativity. How awesome is it for young athletes to play sports without the watchful eye of a coaching staff or their parents looking on. The joy of being creative in a sport or a game is paramount to an athlete’s enjoyment of just playing. Going to the school yard allows athletes to do just that - to have the ability to try new things and make mistakes without judgement.
6) Sport specific skills. Hockey players will undoubtedly improve their skill level by playing road hockey, baseball players will become better by playing tennis ball baseball in the school yard. Soccer players will become better just having lots of touches on the ball in a game of four on four.
Coaches and parents, find ways to encourage your athletes to get out and play. Not only will it improve their athletic ability but it will allow them to develop their sense of independence.