What if we treated video games like we do youth sports?

This is an article I wrote in January 2015, it was originally posted on my old website, Sullivanlacrosse.com.

Imagine a world where parents and coaches control a kid’s video game experience like we do his sports experience. Would kids want to play video games as much if we treated them like we treat youth sports?

Adults complain about how often kids play video games these days and call them lazy for wanting to “sit in front of the X-Box all day.”  I don’t think that kids are just inherently lazier now; I think that youth sports have become less fun.

Video Game Practice
Coach talking: “You can’t just pick up and play this video game; first you have to practice the basics!  Now let’s go over the controller and all of the buttons and exactly what each one does.  Now pay attention!  The “X” button jumps, the “Y” button fires the gun, but if you press “X” then “Y” really fast at the same time you do a super jump…hey put your controller down and look up here, that’s disrespectful to look at your controller while the coach is talking!  Now as I was saying…”

…15 minutes later…

“…and finally, the “Start” button is used to pause and un-pause the game.  Ok, now let’s practice a few jumps.  Watch me do it first and try to do exactly what I do.”

The coach demonstrates a few simple jumps from ledge to ledge then hands the controller to the player to try.

Coach talking while the player is attempting his first jump: “Do it just like I did.  Okay, get ready to jump…No!  You went too early.  Here, give me back the controller so I can show you again.  Now pay attention this time, this isn’t that hard!”

…1 hour later…

Coach talking: “Pretty good practice today.  It takes years to get good at Halo so don’t get too discouraged.  But remember, it’s all about the basics and until you get those down the game doesn’t matter.  Next practice if we get through our jumps better we can learn how to fire the gun!”

Game Day
The day finally arrives (3 weeks later) when the kid gets to actually play the game!

Dad talking to him before he plays: “Are you nervous son?  Play hard today.  I know this is a difficult game so hopefully you paid attention during practice.”

…The game finally starts…

The player is encountering his first bad guys.  The coach yelling at him: “Now here come the bad guys, get your gun out and get ready to press “X”…two hand on the controller!”

Mom yelling from the couch: “Use the rocket launcher Bobby!!!”

…Bobby gets killed pretty quickly…

The coach calls a timeout: “PAUSE!  Press pause Bobby!  Now get over here.  Hustle!  Okay so next time you need to…”

…2 minutes later…

Bobby starts doing a little bit better this time.  Mom from the couch: “GOOOOO BOBBBBY!!!  Shoot them!!!”

…and then he dies again…

Bobby’s mom under her breath: “Does this coach even know how to play Halo?  I mean what is he teaching Bobby at practice because he is NOT winning right now?”

An hour later Bobby finally beats Level 1 and the game is over for today.  His coach talks to him for 20 minutes afterward about what he did well and what he still needs to improve on.  Somehow, he wasn’t able to translate those jumps they worked on all practice into the game.

Sampling Other Games
Later in the year, Bobby is starting to get pretty good at Halo and other X-Box games but decides that he also would like to try playing PS4 because they have some exclusive games that he can’t get on X-Box.

Dad: “We can’t get PS4 this year son.  You have already committed to X-Box and you are getting good at it.  We have invested so much money into your X-Box training that we can afford to also get you a PS4.  Stay focused on X-Box, trust me it will pay off in the long run.”

Select Teams
A year later Bobby was one of the better Halo players in his neighborhood.  His parents decided that the local kids were not providing enough challenge anymore for him so that the only way for him to get better right now was to form a clan with the other top players in his area and go play the best 10-year-olds from all over the country.  These games got EXTREMELY competitive and as his parents invested more and more money into his gaming, they expected more wins.  Finally, his clan just wasn’t cutting it anymore and they decided that he needed to leave his friends and go play for another clan that was much more exclusive to only the best of the best.

You can see where I am going with all of this.  We wonder why kids love video games so much…because it is their last sacred place.  The ball field used to also be a sacred place for kids but like video games in this article have turned to adult-centered win at all cost “factories.”  Video games are not the enemy.  If we want our kids to spend less time glued to their X-Box, perhaps we should make youth sports more like video games and actually let the kids play, have fun, explore the game, sample other sports, and develop naturally rather than race to be the best right now.  Oh, and by the way, when kids are given this opportunity, they usually get REALLY GOOD at what they are doing; just look at how good they are at video games!

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