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Do Kids Know How to Play Anymore?

by Brett Kilka

I was talking to some friends of mine who had just gotten back from a trip to Europe. Their daughter is a 12-year old competitive soccer player, and they had gone over to see the countryside, as well as to see some European soccer games. The family, consummate soccer fans, were talking about how all the kids do over there is play soccer. They’re in the parks, on the streets, the alleys, everywhere, playing soccer. Their daughter attempted to join a game at a park one day, but was soon frustrated with the lack of organization at which the European kids played. No positions, no referees, no official rules, not to mention no formal coaching or college scouts peering hungrily from the stands. Nope, they were just kids, being kids, running, laughing, and playing. Of course my friends saw their daughter’s frustration as an attribute, in that she holds a certain standard for the type of activity she will participate in. I heard this, and immediately thought of the near 25% of American youth that no longer get sufficient activity, leaving them with serious issues such as obesity, type II diabetes, premature heart problems, and a whole host of lifestyle related diseases. Has our standard of “play” eliminated some of these “less than physically gifted” kids from learning the habits of an active, healthy lifestyle? After all, it’s not in Europe where the next generation of youngsters is expected to be outlived by their parents due to preventable, lifestyle related disease, it’s right here in the U.S.

When I was a kid, we had a big backyard, and my grade school friends and I would spend days reenacting every game from every major sporting event. We had this one kid that really stunk at everything. He was slow, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bat or a ball, and he was always picked last. Every once in a while, by the grace of God, he would do something right. High fives and back slaps would follow. No matter how bad he was, he showed up to play every day. He couldn’t make organized teams like the rest of us, but he could get off the couch and play! We had enough “kid” time to do that every once in a while! Although he wasn’t physically gifted, he didn’t fall victim to the dangers of inactivity and childhood obesity. We are all still in contact, and when all is said and done, we all went to college, we all have jobs, we all have families, we’re all happy, and healthy, regardless of our level of youth athletic participation. Every single one of us still participates in some sort of sports league, even the non athlete (bless his team’s soul). Participation in sports was a positive thing that reinforced everything we should learn as a youngster: discipline, commitment, competition, as well as physical fitness. Sure there was pressure to win, but it didn’t consume our upbringing.

Consider the life skills you want your child to get out of athletic participation. Yes, kids should work hard and give their all to anything they do. They should also see a reward for their accomplishments. Many parents see this reward as a college scholarship and eventually, a professional athletic career. The National Federation of State High School Associations released the findings of a study denoting that out of 7 million high school athletic participants, about 1.5% of them will receive a scholarship to a NCAA Division I or Division II university. Out of those that comprise the 1.5%, the number who eventually turn pro is drastically smaller. What are the 98.5% of young athletes that will not earn a college scholarship getting out of athletic participation?

The moral of the story is assess the amount pressure and expectation you place on your child in regards to athletics. The important thing is are they enjoying themselves? Are they learning skills that will benefit them the rest of their life? Are they allowed the time and mental freedom to just “be kids”?

As a society, we are facing a health crisis in the next couple of years. It is our responsibility as adults and parents to facilitate the adoption of physical activity as a life skill in our youth.

Let the children play!

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting, or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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