Remember Friday afternoons? The bell rang and the buses lined up – it was the weekend. You were too young to drink or go to the movies, but Fridays still meant something.
Before dinner you met your friends on a leaf-covered field across from your house to play football. Within an hour there would be a few miraculous catches that rivaled the professionals, a few fights and at least one minor injury.
Unlike my few years of Little League and youth soccer games, my memories of two-hand touch football still remain intact.
Freshly mowed grass, slightly full of morning dew, is an instant reminder of neighborhood games of Wiffleball. Hot pavement, golf courses and fallen snow are all more reminders of pickup basketball, weekly rounds and haphazardly planned football, respectively.
Along with all these memories, I’ve also learned lessons from these games that I’ve brought into adulthood.
Without parents around, unorganized sports teach children to resolve their own conflicts. When they grow up, though, there won’t be any umpire so it’s important that children learn to compromise, something no league can provide.
Other social skills are developed when children participate in sports on their own. They learn decision-making and planning skills. Getting 10 friends to the same field at the same time is much more challenging than having mommy or daddy pay $200 to join a team.
Most importantly, no one sits on a bench in unorganized sports. Everyone constantly plays, exercises and learns the skill of the sport.
Today, some organized sports are corrupt.
There are coaches who don’t worry about playing time and are too concerned about their ego. An article in “Parks and Recreation,” said that, according to a Sports Illustrated for Kids survey of 3,000 youth sports participants, 74 percent have seen inappropriate behavior by parents at their games.
The article also cited Miste Adams, the recreation supervisor for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District in Springfield, Ohio, who revealed the problem that, “Too often small groups run their youth sports (so that) it is convenient for the adults, and not what is best for the kids.”
Most research on this topic, however, praises the structure and coaching these leagues offer our youth.
In 2001, the Journal of Pediatrics reported a long list of studied benefits: “smaller playing fields, shorter contest times, pitch counts for Little League pitchers, softer baseballs, matching opponents by weight in youth football, and adjusting play for extreme climatic conditions.”
I disagree with all of them. Limiting the length of the field and amount that children play only hinders their ability to gain valuable exercise.
Children stop playing when they’re tired, and will stop pitching when their arm is tired, unless there is a coach screaming at them.
Additionally, the supposed benefit of matching weights in football, which matters when you have armed little warriors with pads, helmets and strategies to tackle aggressively.
Children’s lives should not be overly structured – they have no chance to rest and hardly any time for fun. Some kids have to travel up to an hour because the teams aren’t in their community.
During the Little League World Series, I recall reports of teams practicing six hours a day. Then during the finals in Williamsport, Pa. they play in front of television cameras that reach millions of homes.
To add even more pressure, there have been rumors of heavy gambling associated with these games. These conditions are not normal for children and they are missing out on their childhood.
I worry about today’s youth and their reliance on AOL Instant Messenger, Wal-Mart, television and organized sports.
Maybe these are just the grumblings of an already old man, or maybe our children really will accelerate the destruction of the already crumbling social world.
In the meantime, you will find me at Mercer County Park playing ultimate Frisbee with my brother or at St. Jude Grade School with my friends playing Judeball, a combination of baseball and Wiffleball.
We’ll be getting exercise, having fun and arguing about if I was safe at first.