When we are out working with an organization, one of the most common questions we get – especially from frustrated parents – is “Why would my kid rather sit inside playing video games than be out running around with his/her friends?” This question usually is then followed by a long speech about how the parent used to play outside from the minute school let until the sun had gone down and the dinner bell rung.
As a society, we have responded to the increase in video game play amongst our children largely by talking about how video games have cast some evil spell over kids and are making them fat, rotting their brains, etc.
But, what we haven’t spent a lot of time doing is asking ourselves what it is about video games that often make them so much more appealing to children than going outside and playing sports. In other words, why do kids want to play video games in the first place?
The research at this stage is pretty conclusive about what makes video games appealing, and as you examine some of these key principles of video gaming, we challenge you to use these principles as a lens to question not what is wrong with our children for wanting to play video games, but what may be wrong with our youth sports programs that they aren’t able to connect with children in the same manner.
Over the next few posts, we will be discussing why video games are winning the battle for our children’s attention. As we discuss each of these principles, it should start to become quite obvious that if we want to get our children back out and enjoying sports, we need to take a hard look at how we design our youth sports programs…
Point #1: Video games provide immediate feedback on your performance. Think of just about any 5-7 year old soccer match you’ve been to recently. It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that at least a handful of the kids were running around with confused looks on their faces while trying to understand what they are supposed to do as the “good” kid dribbles around the field and the parents shout “boot it!” every time the ball rolls toward him or her. That child has no way of evaluating his or her performance in a game where they ran around confused, kicked the ball five times, and lost the game 6-1. That’s not fun – and it has nothing to do with winning or losing. What it has to do with is the child being able to internally gauge their progress and performance. What is a good game? A five-year-old has very little idea other than what he or she perceives the reactions of others to be. In a video game, however, children have points and levels and all sorts of easy-to-interpret indicators to tell them exactly how they are doing…and the children have the opportunity to figure out on their own what they need to do to make improvements.
How can we improve our youth sport experience? Well, there are a number of things that parents and coaches can do. Let’s discuss one idea. If one of the benefits of playing video games is the immediate feedback it provides about the child’s performance, we need to think about how we can create a more responsive feedback mechanism for our five-year-old who is chasing butterflies and confused about what the adults are yelling. For this child, the only feedback provided is “did I screw up or not when I kicked the ball?” and “did we win the game?” Neither of those feedback mechanisms do much to foster a desire to want to keep playing and improving. But, if we break down the game into mini-games for the players that occur within the larger “real” game, we can redirect their attention toward something productive and motivating. So, rather than just measuring how many goals a child scored, we can measure and track all sorts of other behaviors, such as the number of times the child ran up and down the field, the number of passes he or she completed, or even zanier types of behaviors of your own devising. These are all behaviors that can assist in the child’s development, but which can also be a fun source of feedback for the child regardless of how many goals or scored or whether a game is won or lost – feedback that is individual and not as dependent on overall team performance.
At Hook & Ladder, we often work with youth sports organizations who are trying to find ways to re-engage with children while fostering their development. This is just one example of some of the types of kid-tested, science-approved program design elements we can bring to your organization. Stay tuned for our next post on video games and how we may be able to use their design principles to get our children to put down the controllers and head back outside…