Free Play-SET THE STANDARD
Set the Standard
Back in the day, I used to play games outside from the moment I got home from school and finished my homework until it was dark and my parents forced me into the house. This was the way of life in previous generations. The lifestyles of youth nowadays consists of a long school day that includes more than enough time being sedentary, especially now that schools have reduced recess and gym time more than ever before. The School Health Policies and Programs Study cited that in 2006, 96.8 percent of elementary schools had recess for at least one grade in school, whereas only 82.8 percent of elementary schools provided recess for one or more grades in 2014 (Murray & Ramstetter, 2017). Additionally, research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just 20 percent of schools held mandatory daily recess as of 2014 (Murray & Ramstetter, 2017). This is an alarming trend, and one that certainly plays a role in the health and obesity epidemic that has unfortunately taken over the United States.
In addition to the lack of free play and movement at academic institutions, kids in the technological era today get home from school and are either sitting all day playing video games such as "Fortnite," occupied by television, computers, and other technological devices, or simply not going outside and playing as frequently as what used to be the way of life. According to research, less than half of adolescents are participating in 60 minutes of physical activity each day, yet 51 percent of kids between ages 6 and 17 are spending a minimum of 60 minutes each day using technology (Chen, 2013). This is a reality that is disappointing, but must be accepted by the public. And as a result, this issue needs to be combated with additional periods of time where kids can simply have fun, play games, and learn how to move and make mistakes. This is also a great opportunity to develop a positive relationship with movement-based interventions as childhood is traditionally the time where impressionable habits can be instilled and carried on into adolescence and adulthood.
Despite all of the negative data associated with movement and physical activity, I believe we can make actionable changes that help reduce the amount of damage that is being done with the current trends in society. Free play is considered an environment in which an individual is allowed to express themselves freely and intuitively using movement as a way to solve problems and achieve particular goals. In other words, it's what kids used to do all the time by getting together with friends and playing pick-up games of basketball, baseball in an empty field, or even games as simple as tag and hide-and-seek. As illustrated by the data stated earlier, kids now are not creating these environments on their own like they used to, so as a result this type of movement needs to be addressed by other leadership figures. This can include coaches, teachers, parents, and family members, and is the responsibility of all individuals involved in youth development, particularly in athletic formats.
At Acceleration Sports Performance there is a program known as Speed School, which is a step in the right direction in addressing these deficiencies that exist in the childhood of modern-day athletes. In the Speed School program, the goal is to bridge the gap between free play and regimented training that has all but taken over the youth sports industry. The program is designed to teach kids proper technique and execution during fundamental human movements such as crawling, getting up, sprinting, jumping, landing, changing direction, and basic strength movements like squats, push-ups, lunges, body-weight rows, and planks. Once the foundations have been set, the goal is then to put the athletes into positions to express themselves in environments that enable them to learn how their body moves and make mistakes. A few examples of these environments would be: chasing and tagging games, catching various sport items with specific parameters, or a mini-game with designated offensive and defensive players. This allows the kids to learn how to control their body in space and develop crucial skills such as balance, coordination, stability, agility, and basic strength, but also help them in learning how these skills apply to various sport-like situations and making quick decisions.
The Speed School program is a small step towards the end goal, but it is important that all individuals involved take more responsibility to create environments that challenge kids to move in novel, creative, and unique ways, in addition to allowing them to learn more about themselves, make mistakes, and take part in active and enjoyable environments! Kids generally follow the actions of those that they look up to as role models rather than the words of those same role models, so it is the responsibility of parents and leadership figures to set the standard and spark a global change in the way we view movement as a society!
Chen, A. (2013). Top 10 Research Questions Related to Children Physical Activity Motivation. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84(4), 441-447. doi:10.1080/02701367.2013.844030
Murray, R., & Ramstetter, C. (2017, March 16). Time to Play: Recognizing the Benefits of Recess. American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/ae/spring2017/ramstetter_and_murray