Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kids and competition (or lack thereof)

Bookworm's daughter "got a special commendation for the fact that she didn’t care if she won at kickball or not." Bookworm is not amused.

On the other hand, SFO Mom thinks there's too much emphasis on winning at her kids' school.

They can both be right, of course. Finding the right mix of purely-for-fun versus seriousness in kids' sports can be very tricky, yes? And so much depends on the intangibles, like the personalities and goals of the coaches, and little things, like having class or not. (OK, so classiness or lack thereof can be a big thing, if you have a lot if kids placed under your wing. But things like what you notice and what you don't, and what you praise and what you don't, and what you excuse and what you don't, do matter, don't they? And sometimes what matters most in the long run are just those things that can't be quantified easily.)

I was lucky as a kid. For starters, I had the world's greatest coach for grade school baseball. We played to win, but he insisted we win honestly and graciously. He also convinced me I could hit home runs just like he did (his day job was being a major league baseball player), something I never would have even dreamed possible without his encouragement. I am forever in his debt, for lots of reasons, not least for showing me that sometimes "impossible" becomes "possible" if you pour yourself into achieving a goal and don't listen to the people who want you to be content with "who you are" and "go with your strengths" so you don't risk as much disappointment. Bleh. I've never jumped up and down with joy at having learned to stick with what I'm relatively good at, have you?

But, secondly, when I was a kid the time we spent in school activities or other organized sports was nothing compared to the time we spent playing sports on our own. I don't see as much of that anymore, and I think it's a shame. The neighborhood kids would get up their own games of baseball or whatever - tag, fox and geese, hide and seek, stack the bricks, four-square, tetherball, croquet, badminton, tennis, basketball, footraces, more. We didn't need grown-ups to arrange these things for us. Sometimes we played to win, sometimes to see how long we could make the game last. But we did it on our own initiative, without fancy equipment, and it was great.

Sometimes the grown-ups would join in, of course - as fellow players. And that was great, too, if they were good sports.

Sometimes we made up our own rules, even. You know, used our imaginations to try to come up with a game that was even better than those in somebody's old rulebook. (I wish we'd thought of this. It reminds me of fox and geese, but it's different. I like the 'joining forces' part. Heh.)

Tell me there are kids these days who spend hours learning to lasso fenceposts while running, or sitting, or while standing on one foot, or whatever complication gets designated the complication of that round. Now, there's a game, especially if you give extra points for roping left-handed (if you're right-handed)... (Is this where I admit I was more-or-less ambidextrous until trained to be right-handed?)

Of course, it's not just the folks who want to stamp out competition we have to worry about. There are those folks who can't even stand to let kids run around. Or use jungle gyms. Or merry-go-rounds. Or anything where the poor darling might get hurt or feel left out. I think they're denying kids the chance to feel what it's like to overcome fear, or weakness, or ignorance, or somebody else's bad attitude, for that matter. At a more basic level, how can a kid know what it's like to fling himself on the ground, winded from running and laughing, to stare at the sky and feel a part of the whole, big universe - if no one lets him play?

It's time we fought to restore good, old playtime as a part of every child's childhood, don't you think?

I'm giving the last word to the editorial staff at The Caledonian-Record of St. Johnsbury, Vermont: Scrooge on the Playground. (hat tip: The Club For Growth)

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