Why Kids Aren't Encouraged to go to The Park?

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

Apparently there’s not enough time? With the ever-increasing demands of your child’s sporting schedule, I can only empathise. Not only do you not have enough time for yourself, forget about booking in a social event!

What if I could propose an idea that would not only increase your amount of free time, decrease stress, and wait for it… help you save money? (Cynical laugh- ‘Yeah good one!’ you say).

Let me introduce you to a concept often referred to as ‘Structured’ and ‘Unstructured’ play.

Think of it like this…

Structured Play; is what you pay your hard-earned dollars for. Private lessons, squads, academies, tournaments, and competitions. Not to mention the contributor that increases your stress as a parent in trying to adhere to strict daily schedules.

Unstructured Play; is what you as a child used to do- before the world turned into a big bad place. When the only rules from your parents used to be ‘come home by the time the street lights are on!’. When a new Footy for your birthday turned into a gift for your whole street, or other kids around your neighbourhood!... Fast forward to now where it’s apparently too unsafe for your child to go to the park (have you checked the crime stats lately?).

… Oops I forgot to mention the ever-increasing competition demands of sideline parenting of which new ‘elite’ academy so and so’s child is now attending!

Let me break it down for you like this:

So why are parents so pre-occupied with structured play?

With the societal shift in increased working hrs, bi-parenting careers, self-imposed child opportunities for success, and a lack of parental free time- this makes sense. Another phenomenon I’ve encountered time and time again is that of parents tackling their child’s sporting endeavours with a CEO mindset, drafting flow charts and future forecasts that would trump any modern-day sporting hero’s path to greatness!

But what if I put it to you like this:

You might think I’m strange if your child turned up to their team training session one night and the equipment was out, and for the first 10mins of the session the coach just watched/encouraged the kids to play… and I supported it!


If your child’s weekly schedule score is <1, I encouraged you to choose regular sporting fixture (i.e. The ‘Elite’ Private Football Academy) and cancel it. But instead ask your child who they would like to organise to come over (in other words the modern day ‘play date’) and when they do give them the ownership of going to your local park… Footy and all!

But these are just small examples of what unstructured play is (I know I’ve lost it right?!). The benefits of this style of play far outweigh that of structured play.

  • Social skills are enhanced by finding other kids to play with (even if their parent has to take them to the park!).

  • Problem solving increases as self-directed solutions are sort, often in games with limited numbers or modifications of rules to the limited surroundings (i.e. gutter to gutter in the street).

  • True skill acquisition doesn’t come from a nicely dropped tennis ball by a coach, but rather the rock it might hit/or wall it may ricochet off!

  • Creativity is ingrained in kids, so their environment and equipment available are the only limitations (exploit it!)

  • Learning through experience they aren’t always going to be able to choose to be Kurtley Beale/or Charlotte Caslick because there’s a bigger/quicker kid who won’t let that happen! (and guess what if you’re not there to defend your child, they’ll learn to deal with it!)… It’s called resilience.

  • Need I highlight again how this will provide some more self-time/or save money?! (Insert light bulb moment).

So when you’re looking into your next future forecast discussing with other potential CEO parents (because you’re not one), look into how much free play (you now know as Unstructured Play) your child is participating in weekly… Don’t be too shocked if it’s 0hrs. These days it’s normal. So what is your child’s structured: unstructured ratio?!- I dare you to calculate it.


The combined hrs of training + competition your child engages in weekly vs. the time spent playing (i.e. local park).

Eliza (12yrs) has swimming 3 x a week (W/W/F) 6am-7.30am (1.5hrs), and trains football Mon/Wed afternoons (1hr each) whilst playing on Sat (40mins). On Thurs Eliza and her older brother are usually found kicking the football in the backyard straight after school for about an hr. This would equate to 7.2hrs:1hr… and from my experience this would a rarity for most kids these days!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you do or hope to implement this. Feel free to like, or share this post as I’d love to continue to help other parents in the often overwhelming world of sport!

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