The Importance of Play for Athletes
Remember back when you were in school? Before there were any sports performance facility. Back when the best way to become a good athlete was to go out and play? I was young, but I remember. As for Head Coach Paul, who is much older than I am, would ‘play outside on the daily’. I think my generation grew up right at the edge of both Coach Paul’s era of free play and the beginning of sports performance facilities. Now Don’t get me wrong, the benefits of structured athletic development in sports performance programs are absolutely phenomenal. Reducing the risk of injury, programming to guarantee results, power development, speed and agility, All while under the supervision of a qualified professional. Let’s face it, Sports performance programs may just be the next best thing since sliced bread. However, A lot of programs tend to leave out Game play performance. Which is a pretty important part of athletic development.
Why Game Play Performance?
The term game play performance was introduced to me by Dave Gleason and Dave Jack, from IYCA. You can check out their product Here. It basically makes exceptional athletes through the power of play. To explain it better, What’s the main reason athletes start sports? Because it’s fun , right? Isn’t every sport just a game? playing for fun is a part of them from the very start. That love for the game or activity is a crucial part of their motivation to play. We want to make sure we maintain that motivation to train throughout their lives.
Additionally, From a maturity standpoint, younger athletes attention spans are
short, to say the least. So, What’s the best way to keep someone engaged on a task? By making sure they genuinely enjoy performing that task. Athletes love to play, Duh! Still, many coaches want to train younger athletes like older or professional athletes, and it just doesn’t work that way. Instead,
“Teach athletes to play angles better, read opponents movements, use tactics, predict patterns, react with intention to move, position body properly…” -Lee Taft
Allowing them to react and learn through games will reinforce skills they need to develop better athleticism . It is learning by doing. Once an athlete can connect the purpose of a skill to on field performance, the intent of that skill will increase exponentially. Take tag as an example. Let’s say the focus of that day is lateral movement. When you are playing tag, tell them they are only allowed to shuffle. Once play begins,observe and evaluate change of direction, pushing and pulling their feet in their shuffles, and stayong level. Why will it almost always happen naturally? because if they don’t do this, they will most likely get tagged. Once they are tagged out, you can reinforce the drill by having them shuffle. This gets the athletes having fun and learning a specific drill. As an added bonus, you get some teaching moments and athletes get some “aha” moments in between games. Following the games,break the drill down. The amount of energy you will get from your athletes will skyrocket, because they understand the why. It’s a win-win!
In the end, We still incorporate weight training, power training, and the use of drills to teach a skill. At the same time, athletes need to understand why and how that skill applies to their sport. By applying games, and taking time to explain the relationships of the game to their sport, athletes will not only enjoy their training, but they’ll learn skills at a faster rate, and get better because of it.
Written by Pablo Matos, CSCS