Should Kids Practice or Play- Look at the Evidence


I know one thing for sure, parents love watching games.  I’m a parent and I love to watch my daughter play. As a result one of the great challenges in youth sports is getting parents to understand the value of practice. This is not going to be a “practice-practice-practice” post. Instead, this is part of what I am calling The Evidence Based Approach. Check out this hockey example. The following stats were taken from I believe the 2002 World Cup and compares the ice time and possession time of three of the top players in the game. 

Name               Ice Time    Possession Time

Joe Sakic              15:25            1:19

Mike Modan0     19:47              :58

Tony Amonte      12:51              :46

The key stat is the possession time in bold. The best players in the world, in a sixty minute game, had possession of the puck for an average of under one minute. Now take this and equate it to a youth hockey game of 36 minutes instead of sixty. Possession time now drops down to thirty six seconds a game for the games best players. Over 50 games that comes out to only thirty minutes of puck possession.  Think your child can improve with thirty minutes of stickhandling per season. This can be easily obtained in three well designed practices. Next time your local youth hockey board asks you to vote on number of games, vote intelligently, not like a fan. If you want your child to improve, they need to have the puck on their stick.

If you are not a hockey parent, this still applies to you. These stats are going to be relatively similar in baseball, soccer and basketball. In any youth game there can only be one puck or one ball. In practice, you can have as many as you want.

6 Responses to “Should Kids Practice or Play- Look at the Evidence”

  1. […] and playing (8/27/2008) – play versus practice, a guide to youth sports coaches, weights are safer than sports, play is vital(ity) (also here), […]

  2. First, a child must be motivated on his or her own to really want to get better at a sport/skill. Often times, parents are the ones pushing the kid, instead of the kid pushing the parents to sign them up for this sport or camp. I think if you observe the interaction between parents and their children after a game or practice, sometimes it becomes evident over a period of time which one is doing the pushing.
    Again, as a kid, I believe the driving force behind their own enthusiam for a sport is 1) how much success they are having with the sport 2) how well they understand the game so they can be successful playing it 3) are they given ample amounts of opportunity to practice to become more succcesful.
    As a youth coach, I believe your job is to make it a 100% sure thing that all three things above are at the forefront of your philosphy. It’s not about the wins/losses, the bad throw to firstbase, the airball, or missing the net on a slapshot. What can that child learn from that mistake, or for better words, error performing the skill? Point out how much you appreciate their effort on that play, but if you try this next time, or practice this part more and more, you will get better at that skill.

    Now if you ignore the above three things as a parent or coach, whats going to happen? The kid will become progressively frustrated because he isn’t having success. The kid doesn’t understand the skill or how to perform it better. The kid doesn’t know how to practice the skill and doesn’t have the opportunities to practice the skill. Add those three up = Quit

    But getting to the main subject, it’s important to have a good balance between practice and competition. They go hand in hand. The kid can accurately see if his practice has paid off or does he need to work on it more. But he/she needs to have less threatening practice atmosphere so when he/she fails, they won’t react like its the end of the world or worry about who saw them mess up (peers). On a flip side, sometimes if they accept that this is a hard skill because of their failures in practice, when they fail here and there in competetion, it won’t be as dramatic to them. In the end, it comes down to opportunities and healthy motivation- both intrinstic and extrinstic to really want to practice and keep at it until the sport becomes easier for them.

  3. Mike, small area competitive games for the youth should be standard. The great one’s learn to make the play away from or without the puck/ball. Great coaches teach them what to do when they don’t have the ball, where to go and how to play position, not to be a “puck hog” … A kid who loves to play the sport is on the streets, on the ponds in the garage practicing, handling, shooting, passing until there is no more light or their parents yell at them to get in the house and do their homework. Am I wrong, are kids today only playing/practicing during structured times? If so more play, just my opinion.

  4. I agree to some point, but I think it is important to go half way. More practices are great for skill development, but children (especially young children) need to have fun too.

    As I kid I can honestly say that I hated sports practices and the only reason I went was so that I got to play in the games. If there were fewer games I might have been less inclined to go at all.

    I believe that balance is key here. More practices are worthwhile, but it is important not to lose too much game time. After all, we play for the thrill of the game. If you take that away there isn’t much left.

  5. I’m with you!! This is a big issue with basketball as well. The really good players might get 30 to 40 touches and 10 to 15 shots during a youth game. Parents think that they need their kids to play 50 summer games to get better. Instead, they’re burning them out and possibly causing injuries. In about 15 to 20 games, you get as many touches and shots as you would in a one hour practice.

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