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Are we killing the love of sport and active play for our children?

Wonder why 70 percent of kids will quit playing team sports by the age of 13 and one third of the kids that play between the ages of 7 and 11 will quit playing after just one or two seasons? According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports the answer is, “it’s just not fun any more” and “there is too much pressure to be good.”

Times have changed. Youth sports are not designed to be fun anymore, they are now focussed on developing kids to become more competitive players and in many cases, parents are just focussing on the future opportunities for their child in sports instead of nurturing their passion for the game. Kids sign up because they want to play and have fun, parents sign them up because they want them to learn life skills, develop confidence and compete.

Times haven’t only changed in terms of the focus of youth sports, they have changed in terms of our kids “free play.” On average, 78 percent of what kids ages six through fourteen hear every day is a direction or a correction. From the time they get up until the time they head to bed, they are literally told what to do.

Before school:
“Time to get up Johnny, come eat breakfast.”
“OK, rinse out your bowl and go brush your teeth.”
“Finish getting dressed, don’t forget your jacket, grab your backpack and get in the car.”

At school:
“Sit in your assigned seat.”
“Show your work in math, double space in English.”

After school:
“Jump in the car, we need to get you changed for basketball practice, then take your sister over to soccer and then I will have to hustle back and pick you up.” “After practice we will go home, eat dinner, take a bath, then you need to finish your homework and get ready for bed.”

When do they get to be a kid?

Because kids spend their entire day dealing with directions and corrections, they crave the opportunity to play. When I was a kid, I would ride my bike to school. On the way home we would stop at the park, find other kids and play sports. We would make up games, play baseball, basketball or anything else to compete with one another. We began each game with rock-paper-siccors and then we’d pick teams. If you weren’t very good, or were the youngest or smallest, you generally got picked last. So, get better or continue to be picked last. If there was a bully, we just didn’t play with them.

As adults, we may remember this experience and perhaps if we were the kid that was picked last, it may seem cruel. But it was a valuable experience. Kids no longer have the opportunity to learn from these valuable experiences. Today “everyone’s a winner,” but that’s not real life. Kids no longer learn what it is to succeed or fail on their own. To learn from their peers how to act, how to deal with success and failure without some adult making corrections or directions through the process.

That being said, I have two kids who are now 14 and 17 years old. Sadly, during their childhood I knew it was no longer safe to just let them go down the street and play like we did as kids. Today we need to find structured programs where we know our children will be safe. As a Youth Sports Director, I knew I needed to find a solution to keep kids safe, but still allow them time to be kids, and learn those valuable life lessons.

After my time working with Legendary basketball John Wooden, and other very successful coaches and leaders in sports, I realized that there needs to be a formula that can be reused again and again, that allow kids the opportunity to understand the concepts of what they’re going to learn, practice the skills through drills, and then PLAY! This is why I developed TALK-TEACH-PLAY®.
Today kids have a very short attention span. By using cycles of a maximum of 15 minutes they don’t have a chance to get bored, they stay engaged and have more fun! These skill cycles can be repeated for any given skill however, by mixing it up, players will want more and more and in turn they will begin to learn at a more rapid pace.

At the National Academy of Athletics we use, TALK-TEACH-PLAY®, a teaching cycle, to make sure that the players have a chance to learn, work on their skills and then use them! We use teaching stations and divide players into smaller groups. We find that they have a shorter learning curve. All of our Area Captains and Coaches are trained in this teaching method.

SAMPLE 15 Minute Teaching Cycle:

TALK: Skillful Instruction 
3 minute of a verbal instruction of, what, how, when, why and what is in it for them. Use the same terms that you want them to remember and teach them “cues” so that you are not always having to scream.

TEACH: Dynamic Drills 
6 minutes of actual teaching or working on the skill. Whatever the
skill is, use drills that allow the players to have some success and clear understanding of the skill they are learning and how it will be used in games.

PLAY: Friendly Competition
6 minutes of fun challenges or competitions using what they just learned. If you can help the players to have fun and feel challenged using the skills you have just taught them, it will translate into better success come game day. Minimal directions and corrections, just reinforce the rules of the game.

I am proud that over 8,000 kid had the opportunity to participate in the National Academy of Athletics sports programs in 2018, and had the opportunity to experience TALK-TEACH-PLAY® first hand.