Opening Doors to Sport & Recreation

“It’s fun!”

“It’s too hard.”

“My friends play.”

“I never get picked.”

“It feels good.”

“It hurts.”

We have all had positive and negative experiences with sport and recreational activities. Kids and adults participate in sport and recreational activities for many reasons and avoid it for an equal number of reasons. 

I have presented many workshops for education and childcare staff and one of the exercises I often do is have the group generate a list of reasons they do, or do not, participate in athletic activities. Here are two lists with a compilation of their answers:

Reasons I do Participate in Sport and Recreation

- It’s fun
- It gives me energy
- It feels good
- I feel better
- I get to play with friends
- It’s healthy
- I can test my limits
- I like competing
- I like how it makes me look
- I meet new people
- I’m good at it
- It gives me confidence
- It’s exciting

Reason I Don’t Participate in Sport and Recreation

- No time
- I get picked last
- I’m not good at it
- It’s too competitive
- Cost
- No place to play
- I get hurt
- Negative coach
- Lack of confidence
- Fear of embarrassment
- Don’t get a turn
- Fear of failure

When I am designing a program, planning a practice or coaching a class, I try to maximize the energy and attention I give to the reasons kids do participate in sports and minimize focus on the reasons they don’t:

• Let kids have fun. This means letting them move, be loud, laugh and interact. Kids like to have fun and they all participate for different reasons. They play for kinetic reasons (they love the feeling they get), for competitive reasons (they love to test themselves against their environment and others), and social reasons (they like to do something with their friends). It is important to know the reasons your child plays and support that. 

• Choose games that allow everyone to participate and be involved. Kids will only have fun and learn if they get a chance to play so make sure everyone playing gets a turn.

• Let kids play. Create boundaries with the game structure then let kids explore, experiment and engage within those boundaries with minimal interference. The coach or parent’s responsibility is to ensure safety, that everyone gets an equal chance to play and that the activity is running smoothly. Beyond that, give kids space to try new things, make mistakes, and learn.

• Like the old song says, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative!” Acknowledge and reward positive actions and behaviours and minimize and de-signify negative behaviours. Try it; it really works and is less stressful on everyone.

• Use competition as a means not an end. In our programs we celebrate achievements like learning a skill, scoring a point, making a save, accomplishing a goal but avoid keeping score and defining winning and losing. Mistakes and failure are defined as ways of testing ourselves, challenging ourselves and learning. It is important that adults help frame these concepts for kids and help them understand the role of competition. It is also important to balance any play with cooperative games and try and avoid elimination games.

• Apply the principle of progression. This means starting with an activity where kids can have initial success then gradually increase the challenge.

• Use age appropriate equipment so kids have the best chance of success.

• Use kid friendly equipment that minimizes injury and make sure the activities are structured to ensure safety.

There is an old Cherokee story that helps illuminate the power of positivity:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Mike Perozak is the Founder and Director of Sportplay Inc. He has been operating Sportplay Inc., a multi-sport program for kids, since 2005. Prior to that he has been a personal trainer, worked with chronic high school non-attendees, integrated autistic kids into main stream high school, served as a staff in high risk group homes and been a recreationist at the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. Mike is a NCCP Level 3 Track & Field coach and has participated in a multitude of sport and recreational activities including track & field, cross-country running, triathlons, canoe tripping, white water canoeing, ultimate frisbee, hockey, soccer, volleyball, table tennis, yoga, Aikido, rock climbing, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, down hill skiing, snowshoeing, and more. For more info, visit:

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