Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Deliberate Play

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Deliberate Play
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Deliberate play is simply creating a pick-up sports game and playing (Baker, Côté & Abernethy, 2003). Children can govern and modify sport’s games to make them fun and enjoyable (Baker et al. 2003). A few examples may include street hockey, wall activities and short-sided baseball. Deliberate play enables children to be creative, learn cooperation and develop an inherent joy in sport (Hackfort & Tenenbaum 2006).


A parent wants their child (aged 6-13) to be active, enjoy sport and become the best athlete possible. Because a variety of specialized sport programs exist, which one should a parent choose? At which age? Are the programs necessary to breed expertise? The Canadian Government has provided a Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan to guide parents and help athletic affiliates model developmentally appropriate programs. However, there are still two different, accepted perspectives related to athlete development: early specialization and early diversification (Côté, Lidor, & Hackfort, D, 2009). No matter the viewpoint, a very important component in personal and sporting development for youth is the chance to play and take part in pick-up games (Côté et al. 2009). Is it more important to partake in time with friends and deliberately play or be involved solely in organized sport-specific programs at younger ages?

Technology, Community and Deliberate Play in Development

Increases in technological gaming have decreased time dedicated to deliberate play and are affecting physical literacy. (Tremblay, Shields, Laviolette, Craig, Janssen, I., & Gorber 2010). A Canadian government review suggests that only five percent of children are participating in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play every day; Thirty percent of children are receiving the daily requirement three times during the week (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2013). A decrease in activity will increase obesity and health risks, but more importantly make children place negative labels on activity due to physical and cognitive limitations. Moreover, if parents place their children in a sports environment where they cannot meet the physical, psycho-social and cognitive levels, there is an increased risk in dropout due to lack of enjoyment (Butcher, Linder and Johns 2002)

Community Size and Deliberate Play Opportunity

Community size and socioeconomic status can also affect the amount of deliberate play chances for children. Families situated in small rural towns may have less optimal facilities, more informal game play, and less adult supervision needed, whereas, big cities can have specialized coaches, optimal facilities and an emphasis on adult supervision (Côté, n.d.) For example, if children live downtown, it’s more difficult to create deliberate play activities because of the infrastructure. In close relation, a study on Canadian players in the NHL shows that, per capita, most professionals came from communities under 50,000 people, with contextual factors being a main reason (Côté, Macdonald, Baker & Abernethy 2006). Therefore, one could assume that increased informal play opportunities lead to professionalism, but no current research can determine this.

Benefits of Youth Driven Play

Early involvement in deliberate play can help children develop self-determination and social skills in regards to sport. Because adults do not monitor deliberate play, children have the flexibility to process, discover and be creative with their movements (Starkes 2006). As a result, the atmosphere is very intrinsically motivated and child oriented (Côté et al. 2009). For example, children can make a game optimally challenging and successful by using a smaller or larger ball or adjusting the size of their playing field. These adjustments require children to socialize and use skills necessary for communication with friends or coaches throughout the life span.

Implicit Learning from play

Without instruction, children may implicitly learn from their experiences and become more efficient problem solvers (Balish & Côté 2013). For example, if a child on rollerblades discovers that a turn can be used instead of the heel break to slow down, then they will have more options to use when playing sport. These discoveries can make children feel competent and willing to listen and learn in future low-key deliberate practice coaching environments (Starkes 2006).

The Sampling Years, Diversification of Deliberate Play and Specialization Considerations

Diversified play during the sampling years, ages 5-12, can create cognitive and motor foundations later utilized when specializing in sport (Côté et al. 2009). A retrospective study of Australian Football League players has shown that novice and elite players participated in an equal number of game activities, but the number of deliberate play hours in invasive games was significantly greater, for elite players, specifically at the age of 12 (Berry, Abernethy & Côté 2008). Consequently, if your son or daughter participates in soccer, other invasive team games such as basketball and hockey have similar, transferable offensive and defensive patterns.

Cognitive Capabilities

Additionally, by the age of 11-12, children perceive abstract situations and understand the effects of effort, ability and their performance competence (Côté et al. 2009). It is a critical period for children to start maximizing cognitive-perceptual tactical knowledge (Berry et al 2008). Decision-making and expertise can be garnered most effectively at this stage by playing various activities with different stimuli (Côté et al. 2009). For example, athletes should be given more challenging tasks with an increase in variables (eg. add more balls to a game, hold up colored flags and ask athletes to tell you what your holding up during an activity to work on vision.)

Specialization Considerations

By this point, it is up to the athlete to consider specializing in a sport if they possess the physical, psycho-social, cognitive awareness and desire to do so. But, their motivation should come intrinsically and not at the parents desires. Children should know that elite athletes still cross train and do other activities for enjoyment (Baker et al. 2003). Athletes in individual sports should be involved in deliberate play of team sports, in case specialization prevents interest in their individual sport later in life (Joseph 2003).

Coaching Recommendations

During the sampling years, a greater emphasis should be put on deliberate play and process versus deliberate practice and outcome (Baker et al. 2003). Deliberate practice is defined by having structure and a time constraint (Starkes 2006) Deliberate play constantly engages a child, whereas deliberate practices limit involvement to 30-50 percent of total time due to set up and exhaustive explanation (Hackfort & Tenenbaum 2006). Coaches should try to focus on making fun and inclusive environments, while prioritizing the process of fundamental movement skills (eg. jumping, skipping and throwing (Côté, Young, North and Duffy 2007). Coaches can also incorporate sport specific drills into practice, but children should have input and the ability to decide how to run the games (Côté et al. 2007)

A main priority during the sampling years is to broaden the range of cognitive and motor experiences for athletes (Baker et al. 2003). It is important for children to learn tactical knowledge appropriate to their chronological age. Before the age of 12, children can partake in invasive team games that are modified. As an example, patterns of attack and defence can be taught through ball tag or line tag instead of throwing a ball into a game and telling the kids to play. (Thorpe, Bunker & Almond 1986). It is important that coaches ask developmentally appropriate questions starting with who, where, what (eg. Billy where is there open space, why should you move to open space?), to make children create thoughtful or imaginative answers (Thorpe et al, 1986).


Active Healthy Kids Canada (2013). Are We Driving Our Kids to Unhealthy Habits? The 2013 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: Active Healthy Kids Canada.

Baker, J., Côté, J., & Abernethy, B. (2003). Sport specific practice and the development of expert decision-making in team ball sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 12-25.

Balish, S., & Côté, J. (2014). The influence of community on athletic development: an integrated case study. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 6(1), 98-120

Berry, J., Abernethy, B., & Côté, J. (2008) The Contribution of Structured Activity and Deliberate Play to the Development of Expert Perceptual and Decision-Making Skill. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 30, 685-708.

Butcher, J., Linder, K.J., & Johns, D.P. (2002). Withdrawal from Competitive Youth Sport: A Retrospective Ten-year Study. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 25(2), 145

Côté, J. (n.d.). Coaching Youth: Meeting the Challenge, Raising our Games. Retrieved from:

Côté, J., Lidor, R., & Hackfort, D. (2009). ISSP Position Stand: To Sample or to Specialize? Seven Postulate About youth Sport Activities that Lead to Continued Participation and Elite performance. International Journal of Sport Exercise Psychology, 9, 07-17.

Côté, J.,Young, B., North, J. & Duffy, P. (2007). Towards a Definition of Excellence in Sport Coaching. International Journal of Coaching Science, 1(1), 3-16.

Côté, J., Macdonald, J.D., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2006) When “where” is more important than “when”: Birthplace and birthdate effects on the achievement of sporting expertise. Journal of Sports Science, 24(10), 1065-1073.

Joseph, B. (2003). Early Specialization in Youth Sport: a requirement for adult expertise ? High Ability Studies, 14(1).

Hackfort, D., & Tenenbaum, G. (2006). Essential Proccesses For Attaining Peak Performance. Retrieved from

Starkes, J.L. (2003). Expert Performance in Sports: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise. Retrieved from:

Thorpe, R., Bunker, D., & Almond, L. (1986) Rethinking Games Teaching. England

Tremblay, M.S., Shields, M., Laviolette, M., Craig, C.L., Janssen, I., & Gorber, S.C. (2010). Fitness of Canadian children and youth: Results from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Statistics Canada Health Reports, 21(1), 1-15