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The Benefits Of Free Play

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PCA National Advisory Board Member Jay Coakley (@SiSCoakley) is Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He has done 40 years of research on connections between sports, culture and society, much of that focused on the play, games and sport participation of young people. His Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies(11th edition) is the world's most widely used sports sociology text.

In this video, Coakley explains the benefits of free play. He describes how the “Golden Age” of sandlot sports has come to an end, and how children today spend 10-15 hours under adult supervision. This has led to the creation of a youth sports industry that focuses on performance, rather than development or participation. With this cultural shift, children do not have the opportunities to learn about the basic foundations of games, such as:

  • The necessity of rules
  • Rule enforcement
  • How to form teams
  • Solving conflicts

When children do not have these experiences, they are less likely to “claim ownership” of the sport and think of sport as a context where they can be creatively involved. Coakley believes that for these reasons, children miss out today; they have become competitors without a personal attachment to the game itself, which can lead to ethical and sportsmanship problems.