Archive for “Free Play” Tag

Grieving the Loss of Free Play

By Phil Loomis 

Do you recall the days of your childhood when you would meet your friends outside in the morning and play all day long? You made up teams and played tag, baseball, and dodge ball, capture the flag whatever you felt like that day. It was unstructured and while there may have been rules you and your friends made them up to suit your particular situation. Many “experts” are lamenting the lack of free play in current society.

“Remarkably, over the last 50 years, opportunities for children to play freely have declined continuously and dramatically in the United States and other developed nations; and that decline continues, with serious negative consequences for children’s physical, mental, and social development,” Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College.

Gray has presented research showing a correlation between the decline of free play in developed nations and the rise of depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism in children, teens, and young adults.

Gray also notes that the modern segregation of kids into same-age groups, common in today’s classrooms and schoolyards, may not be optimal for child development. He says that during age-mixed play, older, more skilled participants “provide scaffolds that raise the level of the younger participants’ play” and stretch their abilities to higher levels. He cites other studies in which older children were observed exposing younger children to more complex concepts of literacy, math, and sociability. By interacting with younger children, older students develop increased capacities to nurture, lead, and learn by teaching. [1]

Free Play

On Professor Gray’s last point I agree wholeheartedly! When I was a kid I always had to bring my brother along whenever I would play with my friends, he was 5 years younger than me. We didn’t take it easy on him and he learned how to compete and “survive” against more mature stronger kids. But he was better for the experience; he endeared himself to my friends because he always dusted himself off and got back in the ring. He also developed an enthusiastic group of supporters. It was fairly common to attract half dozen or more teenagers to his little league games. Not only did he earn respect and how to interact with older kids he also developed into quite an athlete. By the time he was in 7th grade I would always pick him first to be on my team and he would run circles around the stunned older kids.

In my 10-14 youth classes I occasionally make allowances for younger siblings (age 9) to make the scheduling easier for the parents. And inevitably the older sibling will “look out” for the younger by giving them a few coaching tips. It’s also very common that non-related older children will take the younger kids “under their wing” by providing a pat on the back or other subtle but powerful boosts to their confidence. This all occurs without any prodding from me I just watch it happen and make a mental note of it, and it’s a beautiful thing for a coach to see!

And therein lies the power of free play the kids take ownership and learn how to create their own culture. As coaches we need to provide a general outline for kids while still allowing and encouraging them to create and find their own unique way of doing things. What I mean by that is there is no one-way or even right way to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, or evade a defender. Kids if given the opportunity will find the way that works best for them and that type of instinctive and reflexive execution of skill is a key element of advanced athletic talent.

Think about the great athletes of all time do you think they honed those skills by playing nearly year round in adult organized leagues? I believe the skill and drive to excel was born at an early age on the playgrounds with friends and neighborhood kids. Once that passion and raw talent is in place then it can be harnessed by coaches and directed by parents. The current youth sport culture compels parents to get their kids involved in leagues and travel teams at a very early age. The idea, though flawed, is that if they don’t start their sport “clock” early their more advanced peers will leave them behind with no hope of catching up. That line of thinking is actually backward but that is a story for another day.

All kids are grieving the loss of free play! Back to my 10-14 class, I was wrapping up a session with the group and while we do all of the necessary speed, agility, core, mobility, and strength training (by the way you can still make this type of training fun) I still like to reward them with free play at the end of the class and they always look forward to it. One of the girls as she was leaving saw two brothers in the next class pulling all kinds of equipment to the middle of the floor. She curiously asked me what they were doing? I said they are building a fort for an active game that we play. She responded with an incredulous look on her face, as if to say, “hey, you’ve been holding out on us!” Yes, even the athletic kids like and crave unstructured creative play.

There is a time for more dedicated focus for young athletes in a single sport/endeavor but only when the time is right (late to-mid teens…), and even then there should be a plan in place to counteract those demands (off-field training and more free play). Until that time free play with as little structure as is necessary should dominate their physical culture.

 

Phil Loomis 
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

 

Reference: 

[1]http://www.stonehearthnewsletters.com/kids-lack-of-free-play-harmful-journal/human-behavior/

Should Kids Participate in Triathlons?

Is it OK for 8 – 10 year old kids to participate in Triathlons?

 

BG Says…

 

While I am 100% heartened by virtually any activity a young person chooses to engage in, it is important to be careful how we direct their efforts in terms of "developmentally-sound" parameters.

 

The essence and need of childhood play (or fitness – they are interchangeable terms) is self-exploration of movement. This movement must be in the style of "free play". Meaning simply, kids must be encouraged to move in a variety of fashions (run, climb, crawl, jump, hop etc) without the over-prescription or repetitiveness of specific movements.

 

This is an imperative part of neural growth and development, setting the seeds for both a future full of movement and athletic ability as well as injury avoidance. Much like the academic world, the early years of school is based on learning a variety of subjects in order to create a well-rounded brain. Specification occurs later in life once this broad base has been built.

 

While triathlons involve three separate movement functions, they are still rather myopic in nature and will become repetitive during training phases. One only needs to look at the tremendous number of injuries that adult tri athletes endure (mostly in the realm of chronic injuries resulting from REPETATIVE action) to see what this type of training and over-indulgence of competition has the potential to do to younger people.

 

In short…

 

Repetitive motion of any kind is developmentally limiting for kids and could easily lead to overuse injury.

 

Free play and freedom of motion are the core necessities of fitness for kids.

 

Enough is enough.

 

It’s time for our industry to get educated and start creating youth fitness
and sport training programs that both WORK and are DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE.

 

 

 

IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification - personal trainer certification

 

 

Click Here To See What Opportunities The IYCA Has For You To Be Part Of The Fastest Growing Portion Of This Entire Industry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Example of What’s Wrong in Youth Sports Training

 

 

Youth Sports Training Done REALLY wrong


How+to+Teach+Kids+to+Play+Golf — powered by LIVESTRONG.COM

Here’s what I wrote to Scott –

 

I often refer to this as "Ignorant Child Abuse". Most parents and Coaches like this don’t truly understand the complexity of what they’re doing wrong. I don’t mean to excuse them or vilify them at all, but it’s a lack of understanding regarding neurological, mental and emotional development that has gotten us to where we are in youth sports.

 

From an "X’s & O’s" perspective, the teaching this golf pro is trying to do is both a moot point and entirely destructive from a future developmental perspective. At Matthew’s age, the key ingredient in athletic development is free play. Experience by doing. Learning via attempting.

 

This trial and error process of experimental movement is critical in creating what I call "Athletic Intelligence." Not unlike school, when we over-quantify what it is we want kids to do, we don’t allow their CNS to establish a frame of reference regarding understanding the pathology of why something works the way it does. That’s why elementary school is informal from a strict studying perspective. Teachers provide lessons and framework, but then allow students to experiment with finding results. That process is imperative in building a level of cognitive functioning that allows for future, more complex areas of study to be understood.

 

(more…)

Exercise Programs For Kids: Tip of the Week

 

 

Exercise Programs For Kids From The IYCA

I had a great conversation today with brilliant and passionate
IYCA Member, Billy Corbett.

 

He mentioned that while tooling around on the IYCA website,
something caught his eye that he knew he had seen before, but
never really paid close attention to –

 

The photograph of me running around and playing with a group
of small children.

 

"It occurred to me that I should be doing more stuff like that, Brian"
Billy told me over the phone.

 

"Is that kind of coaching a good idea when working with kids?"

 

Excellent question and an easy answer….

 

Yes!
HECK yes!

 

There is certainly a fine line between goofing around with your
young clients and enjoying physical activity with them.

 

In my 13 years of coaching Exercise Programs For Kids experience, I can tell you that one of
the fastest and most practical ways of creating relationships with
youngsters that will bridge a level of trust and keep them coming
back for more (i.e. member retention) is to section off a period of
class time during which you participate in a game with them.

 

In fact, my standard training session for kids between the ages of
6 – 9 looks something like this –

 

1) Introductions (5 minutes)
2) Technique Instruction (5 minutes)
3) Technique Play (10 minutes)
4) Technique Instruction 2 (5 minutes)
5) Technique Play 2 (10 minutes)
6) Free Play (10 minutes)

 

And #6 is where I jump in and play WITH them during the Exercise Programs For Kids!

 

They love it, I love it and the parents LOVE it!

 

Be sure to get down and dirty with your young clients and play
with them during certain period of your training session.

 

To learn more about my Exercise Programs For Kids training system and why this ‘play time’
is absolutely critical to the proper growth and development of your
young clients, click on the link below to access the IYCA’s Level 1
Youth Fitness Specialist certification –

 

http://www.iyca.org/fitspecialist1.html

 

 

Have a great weekend!

 

Brian