Organized Versus Unorganized Play

This is a topic that has been hot for years…

Why should kids play at the park, or with friends, in an unorganized play structure versus having all their sports and activities organized by a coach?

Have you ever watched a 30 for 30 on ESPN or a documentary about star athletes?

Without fail, it is the same story…

Wayne Gretzky telling a story about how he always skated with his friends on the local rink.

Marcus Dupree explaining how his friends would meet at the local football field, and you would see many games going on at the same time.

Randy Moss talking how he and his friends would play games with no rules – play football and avoid getting tackled.

Dawn Staley sharing how she would go to the courts with her brother and play with the guys – learn to fight for hers.

What about those stories of how kids in Europe or South America grew up playing street soccer, or kids from the Dominican Republic playing stickball with a bottle top as the ball… the examples are endless.

I mention all the examples above because all as a youth, these athletes learned to PLAY by playing! They became better because they learned from their failures and the higher competition. They spent many hours playing and experienced the older youth teaching them simply by playing against each other.

As humans, we are designed to learn and solve problems. Play is one of the best examples of problem-solving.

Fast forward to today’s kids where they are told where to go when to be there- driving in a car for hours to be at an organized game or practice, coached on how to do everything related to the sport, and “talked at” by parents, coaches, and other players parents.

The structure isn’t all wrong.

It is the only way for some kids to play with friends and learn to compete against other teams.


  • Our youth are not encouraged anymore to go outside and play.
  • It’s too dangerous.
  • They are more interested in playing inside with video games.
  • They don’t want to walk to the park or a friend’s house.

Because of this, the organized structure solves the problem of kids not playing at all.

If I had my choice for our youth, it would be all of them to meet friends at the park and play. There are so many more benefits than meet the eye on this scenario for kids.

I know because that was me. I lived at our park growing up skating, playing basketball, playing football, playing stickball, playing tennis, playing ping-pong, racing… it was my “Athletic Classroom” to learn on the fly.

If kids had the opportunity to do both- play on the playground with friends and have some organized coaching to improve skills… I’m all for that as well.

We have to look at the times. We have to look at the opportunity kids have afforded to them. If we want play to exist in their lives, we have to take what we can give them.

As our culture has changed due to technology, many bad people out there stalking kids, and a less interesting society in walking to the park, we have to adjust and adapt to get kids active.

A critical consideration is if parents don’t set the example of what PLAY is and how to build play into our daily lives… how do we expect our kids to learn?

Play, in any format, is better than no play. Find a way to get kids active. If you are interested in learning how to teach athletic movement to support your child’s/athletes play… is a great way to start.

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