The Endangered Art of Pick Up Sports (and How to Keep Them from Becoming Extinct)

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Photo by Amith Nair on Unsplash

First, pick up games require kids to make their own decisions.

Plop a kid in a practice and they will have to make no conscious decisions of what they should do- they have a coach for that. Most practices are full of coaches telling the players exactly what they are doing, and for how long, with the possible exception of scrimmages. Even in a scrimmage, the coach determines the teams, and for how long they play.

Also, there is less pressure to perform, and any pressure comes from within, not from external forces.

When kids play for others, like the proud parents watching in the bleachers, there is pressure put on them to perform. I know I am guilty of telling my son what I thought was good or bad about his performance for the day.

Most importantly, from a long term perspective, they learn how to solve their own disagreements, and build social skills for the future.

I watch a group of kids playing handball at lunch as part of my current position, and there are frequently disagreements about if a ball was in or out. Most of the time, they don’t need me to intervene, because they know how to be their own referees.

So with all of these benefits how do we make time and space for these unstructured sports?

How can we bring back something from another age? You can’t track down every kid on your block and force them to read this article (well you could, but I don’t recommend it).

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The first way we can fight for the underlying principles of “pick up games” is by protecting and maybe even extending recess times for our children.

It is true that in this overscheduled culture, it can be difficult to get a group of kids together to decide what they want to play, and give them room to make decisions.

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Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

On a smaller scale, you can make a point to take your child to where there is more potential for a pick up game.

Let’s be real. Your front yard is unlikely to suddenly become the start of a pick up game revolution, where all of the other children on the street come out of the woodwork and demand the right to play a game on the street with the neighborhood kids.

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The third option is to put them in an organized sport.

I know. This sounds like giving up. This sounds like admitting defeat, and calling all pick up games extinct and without hope of ever recovering.

But the odds of it happening are significantly less if we don’t rise up and do our part to keep pick up games from going extinct.

Written by

I am a teacher, with two kids, recently diagnosed with Lupus, and possibly other auto-immune conditions, living life to the fullest, while managing symptoms.

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