“Go outside and work!”

“Go outside and work!”

Said no mom ever to a 9 year old when I was growing up.  

But now that’s the messaging that our kids are getting when it comes to sports.  

“You have to work on your shot” …. “You have to work on your quickness”…. “You have to work on your short game”…Heck, I hear parents telling prepubescent children that “You have to work on your upper body strength.”   Sorry dad – 8 year old Johnny shouldn’t have to work on anything except cleaning his room, finishing his homework and brushing his teeth – least of all, he should not be working on his upper body strength or anything related to sport. He should just be playing!  

He should “Go outside and PLAY – not “Go outside and work”.

Don’t kid yourselves folks – words matter.   And the word “work” to a child when “co-branded” with a sport they’re learning to love changes their attitude and rips their confidence and desire towards what should forever and always be considered a game.  My friend Dr. Amanda Visek at George Washington University has done tremendous research around the concept of “Fun” and youth sports. In fact, Amanda is spot on when she points out, “The results of the study are pretty significant, because the number one reason that kids cite for dropping out of sport is that it isn’t fun anymore.”  Go ahead and google “Amanda Visek Fun Maps” and you’ll get all sorts of hits about her research – but this article from the Washington Post  is one of my favorites.

Let’s admit it. Words matter to us – and they may matter even more to kids.  I was asked at the end of a recent podcast, what’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received and I didn’t hesitate.  My R.A. my junior year of college reprimanded me, but not for what you might think.  “Stop saying that”, he berated.  “What are you talking about?”, I asked dumbfounded.  “Everytime I see you, it’s always the same thing. ‘I can’t wait until this paper is done… I can’t wait until Friday… I can’t wait until spring break’”.  But -then he hit it home.  “Stop wishing your days away! You can wait – you just need to live in the moment – those days are going to come either way.”  Those very powerful words have stuck with me ever since – almost 30 years later, I still try to live by them.

If we’re going to move the needle towards bringing “fun” and “play” back to youth sports,e have to pay attention to our messaging – our words.  When we work with organizations on infusing physical literacy, one of the key points we hit home is that everyone needs to be speaking the same language  We believe very strongly in the power of words and if we’re going to regain control of youth sports – how about each of us reading this start with a conversation with our children and ask them – “What are the first three words that come to mind when you think about your sports teams?” If the words like “fun” and “play” aren’t among them – then don’t see that as a failure – see it as an opportunity.  Regain control of the conversation. Impact the language!

Now go outside and play!   🙂