Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Helicopter Parents, College, and Pickup Games

   My Sunday paper reprinted a Washington Post opinion piece titled Grounding the helicopter parent. Although the article's authors (two college presidents/professors) discuss "helicopter parenting" in the context of the college experience, it included a statement about pickup games:

"We remind parents that this generation was raised differently than ours. Remember pickup games? Kids would get together and play baseball, basketball and soccer without parents or coaches screaming "encouragement" from the sidelines. Isn't it amazing how we survived our childhoods without orange slices provided by our parents?"

As an advocate for kids playing more pickup, I appreciated their short commentary on the over-involvement of today's parents in their child's youth sports experience.

In my earlier post, Pickup Games Are Dead! I talked about some of the reasons that pickup games play a much lesser role than years ago. Although there are several reasons for the disappearance of neighborhood pickup games, parental over-involvement in their child's sports experience is certainly a contributing factor.

With organized sports so dominating the landscape, I worry that many of today's parents have lost sight of the unique benefits that their child derives from playing pickup. Learning how to organize games, manage arguments, and otherwise interact without assistance from adults, all help develop self-reliance. Enjoying the intrinsic rewards of the play itself, an essential element of playing pickup, promotes long-term participation. Instead of dropping out, kids continue to play. Isn't that a more fulfilling, lasting reward than yet one more organized sports experience highlighted by "soccer snacks"?

Playing both pickup and organized sports helps balance the overall youth sports experience. When pickup games are thrown into the mix, young athletes can Play Up or Play Down to experience different roles, develop their talent, and have the type of fun they need. Every kid gets his or her "playing time." Opportunity is viewed beyond the context of organized youth sports, and that helps tamp down the instinctual parental response to protect their child and get involved.

As the article's authors also point out, parents are often best at providing support and encouragement to take advantage of opportunities. (This theme of "parents as providers" is one that I echo in my book The Joy of Youth Sports.)

In the world of youth sports, many parents would do better to provide and promote opportunities for their child to engage in self-directed play. Start when they're young. Get the ball rolling by playing catch. Play in some backyard games with your child and neighborhood families. Begin to encourage your child to independently play games with their friends. Carve out time in your child's schedule so he or she has the opportunity to play pickup. Accept some risk.

Why wait for college to begin your child's education in self-reliance?

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Unknown said...

Admittedly, getting kids more involved in physical activity is a lot tougher - but not impossible - with all the technology today. Like kindergarten reading, it's something parents will really have to exert extra effort to get results.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

We remind parents that this generation was raised differently than ours. Remember pickup games? cool games

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