An open letter to all our “Just Play” Camp Participants:

Thank you for joining us for our 2019 Just Play Camp. We certainly hope your child enjoyed the week as much as we did! 

I marvel every year at the improvement we see between Monday and Thursday. What often surprises people, however, is what it is that makes me marvel. It is not the new moves I see or the measurable amount of skill development that takes place over the course of 4 days. No. Those things are important and certainly have their place, but there are deeper things I am looking for in Just Play. 

The voices of kids communicating with each other. The ability and confidence to handle conflict. The creativity to solve problems or make teams with odd numbers of players. The personal confidence exerted to speak up and call a foul. The jovial banter that takes place during play. The emotional joy on a kid’s face when he or she makes a new shot that would never be allowed in a real game! 

These are the things that really matter to me. And these are precisely the things we sought to cultivate this week in your children. They matter so much more than we think! 

As fate would it, I am typing these words near a playground. I see kids pushing their boundaries a bit. Taking some calculated risks. Running around with no apparent goal in mind. Even a quick game of hide-and-seek has erupted. But here come some well-meaning parents who can’t help but give too many directions. Do this. Not that. Sit down. Stop. Etc. 

They aren’t wrong per se. But many of their directions are unnecessary and, more importantly, stifling the calculated risk-taking that kids need to develop. It’s not that big a deal out here tonight, but when you combine all these directions with adult-driven practice night after night (and adult-driven school), well, it adds up to a lot of untapped opportunity. And more, untapped potential. 

The same is dramatically true in youth sports today. We are an adult-driven world. But our adult-driven youth sports world rarely encourages personal ownership and calculated risk. It rarely encourages real problem-solving in the midst of games or even the creation of new games. And it certainly doesn’t encourage a bit of jovial ‘trash-talk.’ None of that allowed in our world! 

But we are missing something important in all this. Kids need more ownership. They need more opportunities to just play. To push the boundaries. To figure it out. To fail. Indeed, to tell each other that they are wrong. Or that they missed them when they were open on the wing. Or that the teams stink and need to change. Or that the game stinks and needs to change. These are rare things today, but they are missed. 

I am always focused on developing these unseen things, but our week this week was especially focused on maximizing the opportunity to practice them. Kids get better when they are at play. They improve not only their game, but their confidence and problem-solving and creativity. They are often radically inefficient! But that’s just fine. They don’t mind, so why should we?

My hope is that this week helped them develop in ways that they can’t really understand. All they should know is that they had fun!

Thanks again. Please keep encouraging them to Just Play! 

Joe Crispin

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