Let Kids Play the Games Their Way

By Jon Buzby | Posted 10/12/2020

Just last week I wandered outside and saw eight kids in my side yard playing flag football. Two of them were mine. As I watched the game unfold, I couldn’t figure out the rules other than they certainly weren’t “normal” flag or tackle football rules.

I was just about to ask but then remembered what happened the last time I intervened in a game...

Picture this: Six kids – two of them mine – on a lakefront beach with a volleyball net, 2 rackets and a birdie, and me sitting on a lounge chair with a good book.

It was a perfect start to a relaxing vacation. I sat and watched as these boys embark on organizing a badminton tournament. It was single-elimination and they declared a tournament winner about every 15 minutes and then started all over again. Here were the rules:

1. You can serve over- or underhand from anywhere you want on your side of the net.

2. If the birdie goes over the net and lands anywhere on the other side on the sand or in the lake, it’s considered inbounds.

3. If the birdie hits the net at any time, you take it over.

4. If the birdie is on your side after the point, you serve it.

5. Play to 100 by 10s (Don’t ask me why other than it does make more sense than the tennis scoring system).

6. Winner stays. Loser goes.

Everyone was having a great time. Win or lose, all you could hear was laughter and cheering from every player. After three “tournaments” there were three different winners. I was amazed that six boys and girls, ranging in age from seven to 12 could all get along so well. No arguing, no tears and no name calling.

And then I got involved. I decided to teach them the real badminton rules. But keep it simple. Here were my suggestions:

1. Serve underhand only.

2. Use boundaries.

3.  Play to five by ones to keep the games shorter.

4. Serve five times and then your opponent serves five times.

The players were leery at first but soon all agreed. They seemed to be excited to know the real rules of the game.

I was just getting back into my book when, all of a sudden, the arguing started.

“It’s in!” “It’s out!” “You already served five times.” Etc., etc.

Soon the tears started flowing and one player stormed off the beach because he couldn’t successfully serve it underhand.

In a very short time, I seemed to have the entire beach in an upheaval. I quickly suggested they go back to their old rules. They refused, insisting on playing the “right way.”

I sheepishly walked away from the arguing and crying and headed to the end of the dock. I jumped in the lake. It was a simple jump. No cannon ball or swan dive. Nobody told me how I should do it or what the international diving association rules were. I had no judges there to critique or correct me. I simply did it my way.

After I surfaced, I turned and looked back to the beach and thought to myself: Maybe the kids were playing the right way before I got involved because it was their way.

Sometimes kids just need to be left alone to make the rules and play their way.

Stay safe and healthy.

Jon Buzby has been involved in and writing about youth sports for the past 30 years with perspectives as a parent, coach and board member. Jon is an award-winning writer and his latest book, “Coaching Kids Made Easier,” is available on Amazon. Send comments or future blog topics you'd like to see to JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @YouthSportsBuzz on Twitter.



USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.