Free Play, or "Deliberate Play," is defined as developmental physical activities that are intrinsically motivating, provide immediate gratification and are specifically designed to maximize enjoyment. Deliberate play activities typically occur between the ages of 6 and 14 and include classic neighborhood pickup games, such as backyard baseball and street basketball. These games are usually comprised of small-sided teams with flexible, peer-defined rules.
Why encourage Free Play?
There are many benefits of Free Play. These include:
- Facilitating a passion and love for the game through exploration of the game.
- Allowing for intrinsic motivation for success.
- Promoting development as a better all-around athlete.
- Stimulating brain development through increasing creative problem solving, thought processes, adaptation and conflict resolution.
- Fostering social development through the creation of rules and teamwork.
- Increasing levels of autonomy, motivation and enjoyment.
How can coaches encourage Free Play?
Coaches can play an important role in promoting free play.
- Allowing players to problem solve on their own and work together as a team to resolve conflicts.
- Giving players access to equipment and allowing players to determine the game they will play.
- Setting aside practice time for players to partake in free play.
- Encouraging players to partake in free play at home.
- Permitting players time before games to participate in free play activities, such as playing pepper.
When should Free Play occur?
Free play can occur during any time, whether at practice, before games, or at home. Coaches can plan for players to participate in free play before, during, or after practice as part of their overall practice plan. Before games, coaches can encourage players to begin warmups by partaking in free play, or even allowing players to stay loose before the game by participating in free play activities. Players can participate in free play at any given time when at home.
USA Baseball recommendation:
USA Baseball recommends the last 10 minutes of every practice be spent allowing players to partake in free play activities to promote enjoyment and learning of the game.
Examples of Free Play activities:
- Backyard baseball
- Wall Ball
- Stick Ball
- Sock Ball
- Wiffle Ball
For more examples of free play activities, check out Ways to Play.