‘Let the Games Begin’. That phrase is more appropriate than ever before. Every time I turn around, my kids are bringing home another form to fill out for another activity or sport, and mainly sports. Soccer is the worst offender of this. If I remember correctly, we got a form for soccer sign-ups three days after my wife gave birth to our oldest daughter (never too young to start I guess)? Sign-ups for soccer, basketball, tee-ball, softball, dance, karate, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, field hockey, cheerleading, and Persian krimanchuli yodeling (ok, I may have made up the yodeling) just as they are learning to walk.
And what do we, their parents, do? We put our kids in to these organized, structured sports that are overly emphasized for their importance from the youth leagues running them, the coaches, and the parents who, with their unreal expectations for their children, are in the stands (usually punching one another in the face while the games are going on). This is not to say I don’t think sports have their place nor is it not to say that my kids don’t participate in some of these very things. I played sports growing up but my parents never viewed them than anything more than games which is why I enjoyed them so much and also why I never signed a long term contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Though, thanks to my parents, I view the sports my kids participate in the same way…as games. But I also have another view of what sports can. Stifling.
My kids are right at the peak of their power of imagination. They have yet to be hit in the head by life’s 9 Iron (repeatedly) into viewing life in the societal box of thinking. They still lay on the ground to look at the clouds. They take their shoes off to feel the grass on their feet. They still create underwater landscapes and school classrooms in the basement. Life, to them, is not black and white, but like a box of Crayola 64’s.
What sports can do, is begin to steal a multi-colored world for black and white and fold in that figurative box. There are rules. There are certain ways to kick, catch, run, throw, hit, shake your Pom-Poms, and yodel, all of which don’t allow for a lot of improvisation at their age (“We have to teach the right fundamentals”). I don’t want to push away their imaginations and creativity just for the sake of learning how to properly execute a cruyff.
So while they play organized sports, I make sure they get a chance to play unorganized sports. This includes spur of the moment races from the car to the front door or up the steps to the second floor (loser smells like poop). We play hide and go seek and make up the rules as we go along. We make obstacle courses, from our own imaginations, in the basement to run through. We play catch by throwing a ball on the roof of the house and waiting to see where it comes off. Tag, freeze tag, who can hop on one leg longer than everyone else, who can guzzle their drink fastest. No real rules other than the ones we decide at that time. No fundamentals needed. No screaming coach who believes his stint as youth baseball coach is just the first step to becoming the next Tony LaRussa. No parents pummeling each other in the bleachers. No whistles. No out of bounds.
Trying new games. Open to suggestions. Figuring it out as we go along. It’s a bit like the first Olympics at our house (minus naked Greeks and the Olive branch crowns).
I like sports. I played them. My kids like sports. They play sports. Like most other things in this society, they have their place. Sports can teach teamwork, achievement, reaching for a goal, camaraderie, and discipline. All good traits to learn but so is recognizing these sports are just games (too often too many forget that part of it). Their imaginations and creativity and freedom from that structure can be good traits too because they teach them that you don’t always need a field, nets, or coaches to let the games begin.