Note: This is Part 2 in a series exploring what youth sports can learn from how video games connect with and motivate children. To read the introduction to this series and the first installment, click here.
Point #2: Video Games create an environment where failure is part of the learning process. Have you ever sat and watched a child play a difficult video game (or played one yourself)? What happens when the child’s avatar “dies” or he fails the level? Does he throw the controller in frustration and talk about how he wants to quit video games? Maybe every now and again, but that type of response is much more likely to be exhibited by a child striking out after a Little League at-bat than a child failing to complete a video game level – at least according to our years of experience studying the behavior of children. More often than not, when children lose at video games, they simply start the level over and try to correct their mistakes from the previous attempt. In other words, they refine their play and work to perform at a higher level: they learn.
How can we improve our youth sport experience? The important social and cultural meanings we attach to sport performance at any level make it difficult to create an environment where children focus on learning and improving from failure or underperformance. The big sticking point in making progress to develop these types of developmental environments is the inevitable importance we attach to outcomes when evaluating sport performance. The reality, however, is that the research literature has shown that it really doesn’t matter whether your kid or your team win or lose until they enter their teen years, more or less. Now, this observation is always met with indignation by parents and coaches who place subjective value on “learning to be a winner” or some other pseudoscientific justification. Virtually all of the developmental research shows that if we focus on mastery and emphasize the process instead of the outcome, our children will develop to be better athletes and better people. We adults just haven’t yet figured out how we can realistically do that. One of many things that we help our clients implement is a system for teaching children, parents, and coaches what specific skills to focus on during practices and games when evaluating the child’s performance. If your developmental program emphasizes decision-making, it is more beneficial for you to be tracking the length of time between when the ball is passed to a player and when he/she makes a decision with what to do with that ball. If the shot goes through the net, that’s fantastic…but it’s also developmentally secondary during this period. By focusing on processes that children can control over outcomes that they ultimately cannot (like winning the game), we can take steps to create a learning environment focused on mastery – and one that looks much more like what appeals to children about many video games.
Stay tuned for our next installment in the series…