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Why Don’t Kids Just “Play” Anymore?

Updated: May 3, 2023

3 Reasons Kids DON’T Practice on Their Own Time or have Unstructured Play, and 3 Solutions to the Problem

A child’s development is a collaboration between all people involved in their life, including the coaches, parents, extended family, friends, and most of all, their self. As coaches and teachers, we only see the children for a few hours each week and in this short time, even the best can only give children the knowledge and tools to be successful. The rest is driven by what goes on outside of practices, games, or other organized events. At Beestera, we constantly stress the importance of “Play” and see a massive difference in development between children who play on their own time vs children who do not, which led me to think about the reasons children do not practice on their own and how we can solve this problem. 

Reason 1: Technology and Social Media are being used for the wrong reasons.

When used correctly, technology should be a supplemental way to gain knowledge and communicate with your peers more efficiently. Instead, it has hindered children’s’ physical, mental, social, and emotional development because its addictive nature causes children to miss out on so much of life. As a coach and teacher, I see firsthand how children are unable to deal with adversity, problem solve, and interact with their peers socially. I feel that social media has led to a society where children live their lives in fear that they are missing out on something. When I listen to my athletes talk at practice, everything revolves around videos, posts, or pictures they have seen on the internet. In reality, the only thing they are missing out on is a chance to reach their full physical, mental, and emotional potential. It is no longer “cool” to try your best or work hard because unless someone saw you doing it on social media, you will not get any recognition for it. No matter what they say, children and adolescents crave attention and recognition, but they are not willing to take the steps to earn it.  

Kids playing soccer in the street

Solution: Take Responsibility for your Child’s Development

Parents need to take notice of how much time their child is spending watching TV, on their phone, or playing video games. I know a lot of parents have rules about the amount of screen time their kids partake in each day which is good start but now parents have to encourage and even teach their children how to play on their own. With that being said, it will not do any good to force your children to go outside because that will not translate to long term sustainability. You have to guide your children to want to play, simply because they want to, not because someone is telling them to. A good way to accomplish this is by creating family fun time where the whole family engages in fun physical activity. You can change up what you do each day or week to keep it fun and fresh but the goal is that the children will find joy in being active and playing games which will lead to them preferring this over social media or video games. 

Reason 2: Children do not know how to fail

Technology offers an infinite amount of materials which has led to diminished imagination of coaches and players. There are a lot of great coaches out there who truly care about the development of each child and post meaningful, practical, and knowledgeable content but their pages go unnoticed to youth players because they are not flashy, funny, popular. On the other hand, there are a lot of “internet” coaches who create unrealistic and impractical content because they know they’ll get more clicks or page views. We live in a world where failure is frowned upon. Children would rather watch videos where someone hits a free kick in the top corner ten times in a row then actually be able to go out and do it themselves. They would rather be the one who saw the video than the one who created it. What these pages don’t show you, is the amount of time and practice that it took to make that video. By eliminating the failure portion of the video, it leads to a culture where children feel like if they cannot do something on the first try, they say, “I can’t do this” rather than, “I am going to learn how to do this.” 

Beestera Soccer Youtube Channel

Solution: Find a video that your child is watching and set a goal for them to accomplish

If you notice your child watching videos about learning 1v1 moves, juggling skills, shooting techniques, or a Beestera Footwork Friday

(shameless plug), you should watch it yourself and create an age appropriate goal for your child to accomplish. If they are watching a video on players curving free kicks into the top corner, either teach them or ask their coach to teach them how to do it and then see if they can do it themselves. For example, if your child watched a three-minute video of players curling the ball into the top corner, tell them they cannot watch another one until they are able to demonstrate the skill themselves. If your child wants to watch another video, they’ll learn it, and if they want to actually learn the skill the players are demonstrating in the video, they will do that as well. Setting a goal like this will teach children that success is process and a lot of failure comes before they can succeed.


Reason 3: There are no safe places to play

A lot of parents are scared to let their children play outside or go to a park with friends in fear something bad will happen. Children need outlets to express themselves and when they are not allowed to do this, they turn to technology. As we talked about in “Reason 2”, technology is great if used appropriately, but and issue arises when children start wanting to play video games rather than play in real life.

Solution: Create safe play situations yourself

If parents do not feel comfortable with letting their children play outside, they must be the ones to supervise or just join in the play yourself. As I mentioned before, child development is a collaborative effort so excuses like, “I have too much work to do” or “We don’t have time” will limit the creative potential of your child. If this is the case, set up your work in a place where you can watch your children outside or at a field. Another good idea is to set up “play days” with the parents of your child’s friends. Get a group of friends together a couple times a week and have the parents take turns supervising in order to eliminate the worry of safety. The children will get better physically but also learn how to interact with others, overcome adversity, relieve their mind of any stress they may have in their life. 

Thanks for reading,

Mike Matera

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