How To Incorporate Play Into Youth Physical Training

How To Incorporate Play Into Youth Physical Training

Play /plā/ verb: to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than serious or practical purpose.

Accurate definition, huh? You can thank Google. ;-O

To that end, play is enjoyment, recreation, freedom, autonomy, and creativity. And when it comes to training youth athletes, some degree of play is needed within a session.

This means there are minimal rules, limitations, and coaching.


This does not mean the coach leaves, grabs a burger, allows total anarchy to happen, and comes back only to find the field in shambles.

The best way to sprinkle in play into a fitness session is to teach first, and allow kids to play after. This way, kids are learning a specific skill and then able to apply it in a game-like setting – a setting where they’re forced to make decisions, play to their creativity, and develop a zest for fitness.

The benefits of play drills:

– Kids get excited about fitness
– Kids can move freely
– Kids improve ability to make decisions
– Kids increase creativity
– Kids learn basic motor skills

Here are 5 examples on how to add in play into a fitness session:

1.) Skill: Core Stability

Game: Cone Balancing Competition

This is one of my favorite drills to reinforce core stability.

With the placement of the cone on their backs, athletes are forced to keep their cores braced, hips stable, and back flat, otherwise it’ll fall off and they’ll embarrass themselves.

Surprisingly enough, this simple game gets VERY competitive.

Don’t. Drop. The. Cone.

2.) Skill: Jumping and Landing Mechanics

Game: Synchronized jumping and landing

A lot goes into teaching jumping and landing mechanics.

So much precision must go into the countermovement, the jump itself, and the landing.

After I teach my players the mechanics, what better way to reinforce it than to add some rhythm to it?

This synchronized drill ensure my athletes remember a powerful countermovement, vertical jump, and soft landing.

Again, step in and coach when *needed*.

3.) Skill: Coordination and Spatial Awareness

Game: Obstacle Warm Up

I like to use this one with my older girls (U15 and up).

It’s an excellent movement prep warm-up and excites their nervous systems for our power, agility, and strength work. Since this age range is more performance based, it’s healthy to have some degree of play.


It helps to activate their parasympathetic nervous systems and relax in lieu of busy soccer and academic schedules.

4.) Skill: Technical Creativity
Game: 1-v-1 cone reaction

This is a drill I like to use with all ages.

This one works on spontaneity, creativity, and ability to react – skills kids must learn and be able to maintain throughout the length of their careers.

The one rule to this game: you can’t do the same move two times in a row. This inspires far more creativity and exploration with technical skills to maneuver around defenders.

5.) Skill: Upper Body Strength
Game: Tug-of-War

Again, another drill I use for the U15s and up.

It’s a great way to work on upper body strength (a performance-based goal), as well as escaping and having some fun.

6.) Bonus Skill: Speed + Bodying Defender
Game: 1-v-1 Gladiator Battles

This is one of my top drills for increasing the intensity of speed work as well as aggression.

Better yet, making the drill co-ed increases the competitive spirit. This is definitely one of my favorite coaching moments. Like. EVER.

To conclude…

Please keep in mind that *some degree* of coaching needs to be involved in these play drills. Especially if a kid is messing up over and over again, it is the coach’s job to step in and correct the movement pattern using 1-2 cues.

And leave it at that. Exit stage right, and let the kids continue to figure it out for themselves.

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