Gamification: Where did youth sports go wrong?

In the talk below, author and entrepreneur Gabe Zichermann argues that real life moves too slowly for children raised in a video-game world. Rather than crying about the dreadful video games and their negative effects, we should embrace video games and the gamification of our society.

Zichermann mentions a talk by Andrea Kuszewski where she gave five reasons for games ability to develop fluid intelligence or the ability to solve problems.

  1. Seek novelty
  2. Challenge yourself
  3. Think creatively
  4. Do things the hard way
  5. Network

In previous generations, these five things may have explained the popularity of youth sports. However, in this generation, these things are largely absent from youth sports. Rather than seek novelty, children specialize in one sport, and even one position, at a young age. Rather than challenging oneself, parents holdback children to give their child a competitive advantage, while coaches stack teams to win at all costs.  Rather than think creatively, players follow the coach’s script and are punished for creative plays. Rather than do things the hard way, players train with trainers and learn through repetitive block drills to ensure success. Rather than network with other children, children are, to quote my high-school cross country, “here to win, not to fraternize with other teams.”

When I was young, I learned the game, to a large degree, at Rollingwood Racquet Club. There was a half court with one hoop, and I played there every Sunday night at a minimum. I played against adults, college students, and high school players before I reached high school. I learned new moves and new shots because I was playing against older, taller, and stronger players, and I had to adjust to have any success.

My experience was normal, but today’s youth sports environment differs considerably. To find these novel, challenging, creative and social experiences, children increasingly avoid sports and gravitate toward video games for these experiences. How disappointing is it that playing video games provide these experiences better than sports? As society gamifies, the sporting world, and especially youth sports, appears to be one of the last industries to embrace these ideas.

Rather than focus on competition, specialization, all-star teams, and the other things that leagues, organizations, trainers, and coaches use to differentiate their programs, why not focus on these five ideas from video games? How can a youth sports organization create novel experiences? How can a coach or league encourage players to think creatively? How can a coach or league create challenges or do things the hard way? How can a coach or league make the team or league more social?

These are the types of questions that coaches and leagues need to ask and answer to make better experiences for the players.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

2 thoughts on “Gamification: Where did youth sports go wrong?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.