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Tip 2 - Deliberate play

The importance of deliberate play to skill development

Deliberate play, or unorganised play and practice, at home by a child on their own or with family and friends is a valuable adjunct to organised sport. Deliberate play promotes movement problem solving, creativity, diversification, variability and adaptability of skills, self-challenge and mastery.

Classic examples of deliberate play from sporting legends include:

The late Sir Donald Bradman honed his batting skills by hitting a golf ball off a corrugated water tank with a cricket stump.

Former rugby league international Brad Fittler developed his football skills out of the front of his suburban Sydney home with a plastic football (Coates, P 2005).

Former professional surfer and seven-time world champion Layne Beachley learned to surf at Manly beach on a foam surf board (Coates, P 2005).

Pin icon TIP: Promote deliberate play with your children by setting up diversified and stimulating play environments at home

  • Explore your home environment inside and outside and use what you’ve got at your disposal including brick walls, fences, grassy, sandy and cement areas, the corridor or veranda in your house (great for balloon tennis, soccer and cricket with a soft ball).
  • Provide your children with an array of age and size-appropriate, bats, sticks, racquets and balls of varying sizes, and basketball targets that they can challenge themselves with on their own. Below is a citation from a study that investigated the role of deliberate play in the development of cricket batting skills (Weissensteiner, Abernethy & Farrow, 2009).

You’d be playing with a hard ball in the backyard and around the park but on the road when you’re playing with tennis balls or other sorts of composite balls or down at the beach we’d often shave one side so it’d swing. If we were down the beach we’d dunk it in the water so that made it a bit heavier and ... that’d make it fly a bit differently.

  • Encourage ambidexterity (e.g. hitting and throwing with left and right arms and kicking with left and right feet) and finding unique solutions to movement challenges. Children and athletes come in all shapes and sizes, so finding whatever movement provides the desired result is the key!
  • Promote and embrace creativity when it comes to setting your own rules — rules like hitting the ball over the fence is six and out.

We had a slat fence with upright posts and beam supports ... if I hit it between the beams it was runs but if I hit under the beams or over the top beam it was out, or if I hit the uprights itwas out, so they were my fielders. The challenge was to see how much of a risk I could take, the most runs were scored in the hardest areas.(Weissensteiner et al 2009)

The Healthy Active Kids website has some great examples of deliberate play.

And on the Australian Sports Commission website:  

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Quick numbers

11.6 million Australian adults participate in sport or physical activity three or more times per week.
3.2 million Australian children participate in organised sport or physical activity outside of school.
$10 billion is spent annually by Australians on fees for participation in sport or physical activity.
17 million Australian adults participate in a sport or physical activity every year.
650 thousand Australians either coach, teach or instruct sport.