Editor's note: Dr. Chris Stankovich is an expert in sport performance science and has co-written two books, "The Parent Playbook" and "Positive Transitions for Student Athletes." If you have a sports question, chris@drstankovich.com, visit DrStankovich.com or call 614-561-4482.

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IS THIS THE END FOR BACKYARD SPORTS?

Sports for kids today are very organized, usually providing a multitude of options to select from that vary from recreational to elite/premier. While today's sports model can be beneficial for some kids, other kids feel as though it is too exhausting and leaves little, if any, time to simply play pick-up games around the neighborhood. Does all this structure actually prohibit kids from wanting to pick up their glove and bat and improvise games with their buddies??

This past weekend I watched kids in my neighborhood hit the swimming pool, ride their bikes, and skateboard at a local skate park. What I didn't see were kids playing pick-up games in their yards, the street, or even the vacant baseball diamonds around town.

Has backyard wiffle ball been officially replaced by Xbox?!

Admittedly, when I tell kids about the days when I was their age and how we used to regularly create pick-up games just about wherever we were (i.e. backyard, street, parking lot, empty field, etc), I do feel as though I am telling them how I used to walk to school through the snow for 10 miles without any shoes! My point is that today's kids, for the most part, have not grown up playing unstructured sports and therefore see the idea as a rather foreign concept. At least that's why I think they look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them what we used to do!

When I was a kid playing Little League Baseball, our 1-2 game-a-week schedule hardly satisfied my appetite to play. Since we didn't have travel teams in the 1970's and 80's, most of us created games out of just about anything that was available (or could be made - ragballs taped up with duct tape were quite popular). Of course, traditional baseball could be played on the fields that sat open each day, but we also created our unique wiffle ball stadiums in our backyards, almost always incorporating the unique nuances of the yard (i.e. over the pine trees for a home run!!).

If we couldn't play in the backyard, we had bases secretly painted on the street and used tennis balls (or even racquet balls they go very, very far when hit) and played street ball. Of course, the street was also used during football season, too, with sewers being used as goal line markers.

Kids today seem to spend a lot of time on gaming and texting, and while not a bad thing, it does seem to take their attention away from the pure joy of simply going outside and "getting a game together." Sure, structured sports are great, but theres also something to picking teams and playing wherever and with whatever is around. Need someone to call balls and strikes? Tip a picnic table on its side and tape off the strike zone. Field too small? Make each player bat opposite hand. Break a window? Run! (just kidding about that one).

Organized sports are great, but when I talk to people 30 and older it seems as though most of them feel the same as I do when thinking about the dearth of pickup games today. I wouldn't say things are worse today, but they sure are different about the only good thing I can think of with less pickup games is the decreasing number of houses and cars hit by errant balls!

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Previous Sports Doc columns:

Sports Stats Can Be Misleading Should Your Child Play 'Up' in Sports? Reader questions (7/10) Use open-ended questions to open dialog (6/10) Getting ready for games (5/10) Hazing in youth sports (4/10) The top 5 transferable athletic skills (3/10) Watch for kids hiding injuries (2/10) Using sports for confidence development ( 1/10 ) Reader questions (12/09 ) How sports can help kids with disabilities (11/09 ) When should kids start working out? (10/09 ) Multiple kids, multiple sports (9/09 ) How to get kids to try sports (8/09 ) The do's and don'ts of summer sports (7/09 ) Failed school levies and athletics (6/09 ) What is sport sampling? (5/09 ) How to talk sports with kids (4/09 ) Your child's team is not a babysitter (3/09 ) Dealing with pressure (2/09 ) Does your child have sports burnout? (1/09 ) Help your child overcome 'choking' (12/08 ) Help your child see challenges instead of fear (11/08 ) You've got questions the Sports Doc has answers (10/08 ) Interview with former gymnast Dayna Goen (9/08 ) The psychology of injury recovery (8/08 ) Getting into the zone (7/08 )

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