Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spontaneous Sport

Maps to hotel and fields...check.
Cooler stocked with Gatorade and water...check.
Full gas tank...check
Because we're in Kansas, Under Amour, umbrella, AND sunscreen...check,check,check.
Purse full of way too much money to be spending on a child's pastime...check.

For eight years now I've been packing up the mini-van on various autumn and spring weekends and heading out for long, tiring, expensive days spent hanging out at hotels and soccer complexes. Eight years...and I'm still not sold on the whole competitive, traveling team youth sport racket.

Sometimes, while shoving kids in the car, stuffing granola bars in their mouths because we haven't had dinner yet, instructing them to pull off the school uniform and pull on the shin guards and reminding them to try to stay buckled in while doing it, and taxiing them to practices that on occasion they really don't want to go to, sometimes at those moments, I wonder what it's all for?

I imagine a life without organized youth sports. The vision fades in like a dream sequence in a movie. Frank would ride his bike to the neighbor's house. He and the other boys would grab a ball and kick it around the front yard. They might play pick-up basketball or a game of catch. Heck, they might even throw a Frisbee around. The dreams ends in abrupt blackout.

The reality is that Frank won't be playing any pick-up games because all those other boys are at practice. The real alternative to not signing him up for club sports is a vision of the back of his head as he stares at a computer screen, manipulating virtual pirates in and out of Caribbean ports of call.

Please don't misunderstand. Frank does play outside with the neighbor kids. And sometimes, balls are involved. But our culture has experienced a certain and devastating death of the pick-up game. While organized sports has it's place in today's society, the absence of the spontaneous gathering of children creating their own fun is sad.

What's even sadder is that this lack of spontaneity and creativity has leaked into our schools, as well. My children once attended a school where even the recess activities were dictated. Recess, a.k.a. free time, a.k.a. socialization! Come on! What kind of control freak grade school teacher wants to dictate even that 20 minutes of allotted play time. When my kids complained that the teacher chose the recess activity every day and that everyone had to participate so that no one felt left out, I cried. Okay, I didn't actually cry. But I did roar. Well, actually that might have been more of a raving rant than a roar. But it wasn't directed at anyone and it was only for my own venting satisfaction, so it's alright, right?

Whatever happened to allowing kids to be kids? Why can't our children have the freedom of free play and natural socialization without the constant control of adults? As parents and educators, do we provide enough creative play that doesn't include pleasing a coach, performing for a crowd, or following the strict guidelines of an overzealous playground monitor? I wonder what would happen if we, just for the sake of experiment, allowed kids to just play. Without coaches, without uniforms, without referees.

I wonder if some of them would even know how to self-recreate without someone else setting the confines, limits, and consequences? I know there have been way too many times that I've felt the need and even the necessity of entertaining my children. I've been sucked into the idea that it's my job to come up with an activity for every spare moment. And then I go a little nuts when my children don't seem to be able to entertain themselves with the help of Disney, Nickelodeon, or the Internet.

Perhaps it's time for a little socialization experiment. Perhaps it's time to gather the children and see what they will do. But first, I'll need to reserve the park to make sure they have a place to play. Then I'll assign each parent certain sports equipment to bring. I'll be in charge of drinks and snacks so I can make sure the kids have healthy choices. And maybe we'll even provide little treat bags so that everyone feels rewarded for his good effort. It sounds like a perfect day of spontaneity and fun!

I'll get to work on that just as soon as I return from my long, tiring,expensive weekend hanging out at the soccer fields.

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