Irish Grassroots Football

What is PLAY?

One thing I’ve learnt over the last number of years is that all children learn at different stages. Some children are ready for school and other are not. Some are ready to play in an organised coaching structure and others are not. One thing will never change, – all children develop at different stages and we must not force that process.

What does Play mean to children? 

Ideally kids should play every day, often without supervision. Just like in times gone by, street football, or games that happen naturally are a great environment for kids to develop on their own without being over-coached by adults.

Play is recognised as a basic human right for all children. The importance of play has been reaffirmed by the UN’s convention on the Rights of the child, which Ireland ratified in 1992. Article 31, set out the child’s right to play:

“Parties recognise the rights of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and participate freely in cultural life and the arts: parties shall respect and promote the rights of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity”

Article 7 of the same convention states,

“The child shall have full opportunity to play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purpose os education; society and public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

What is Play? 

Play is an essential part of a child’s life and vital to their development. It is central to all aspects of young children’s development and learning. It is the way children explore the world around them and develop and practice skills. Play is essential for physical, emotional, and spiritual growth, for intellectual and educational development, and for acquiring social and behavioural skills.

Play does not always involve equipment or have an end product. Kids can play on their own and with others. Play can also be boisterous and energetic or quiet and contemplative, light-hearted or very serious.

When kids play they learn about themselves, others, their environment and the whats around them. Play enables them to explore and practice the roles and experiences that they will meet and fulfil in later life.

“It is through play that children develop their imagination and creativity”.

Types of Play: 

  • Structured play is play that has been pre-arranged.
  • Free play is play that is spontaneous, this happens when children choose and use materials and resources in their own way.

Given today’s changing lifestyles, children have fewer opportunities to play freely with other children in their locality and on the streets than did children in the past. Parked cars has been a major factor for children not playing on the streets. This in no way takes from the range of opportunities which still present themselves for children in the 21st century and a well planned active school & after school curriculum will ensure that these opportunities for play can still happen.

Many studies have looked at the importance and role of play, the following are a few of the common themes.

The Role of Play: 

  • Play promotes children’s development, learning, creativity, independence, confidence and well being.
  • Play keeps them active and healthy and this carries into adulthood;
  • Play develops social inclusion. Helps them understand people and places in their lives, learn about their environment and develop their sense of community;
  • Play helps them learn about themselves, their abilities and interests;
  • Play is good for the mind It helps children deal with difficult or painful circumstances, such as emotional stress or medical treatment;
  • Play allows children to let off steam, de-stress and have fun.
  • Play and Fun are the same to children.

In any organisation working with children there should always be an element of spontaneous play. This opportunity provide for exploration, experimentation and manipulation, all of which are essential for the construction of knowledge.During play a child learns to deal with feelings, to interact with others, to resolve conflicts and gain a sense of competence. It is through play that children develop their imagination and creativity.

“Physical exercise turns our brain on, so get out and get moving or you will turn your brain off” tcd

The role of Risk in Play: 

Children by their nature will always seek out opportunities for risk taking while at play. Therefore it is seen as an essential method of teaching a child how to assess and take calculated risks. Risk taking can be essential to the development of a child’s confidence and abilities both in childhood and later in life.

The quality of any programme should therefore respond by creating an exciting and stimulating environment that balances risks in an appropriate manner. However of course we must understand the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable risks and must ensure that the children are not exposed to unacceptable risk. Learning new skills involves an element of risk and  coaches must be capable of exercising their judgement about the level of risk that is acceptable and appropriate and also to exercise their judgement as to when it is necessary to intervene to prevent potentially harmful situations happening.

Risk helps them to understand that things don’t always work our right –  sometimes things can go wrong but the right coaching, they can put it right again or at least learn to live with mistakes.

In a recent study, Children were asked ‘How does playing make you feel?” – 8 out of 10 children said, it makes them ‘Happy’.

All of the above underlines the importance of play, and its influence on the well being and development of children today, and for the future of its communities.

Research: National Children’s Office Strategy, Playwork Scrutiny Group, Cardiff 2005.

Worth a read: Wise Words with Dr. R Bailey


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