I found a great article that I commend to you as you reflect on lessons that can be learned through sports.
While I’m not advocating that we should or could return to the “good ole days” of pickup basketball at the playground or a baseball game in the backyard, this article points out some of the learned lessons that are lost in the organized versions of our games. The “adultification” of youth sports has robbed kids of some valuable experiences and opportunities for personal growth. Granted, not all of these experiences were easy, but put within the context of the situation, the they may have been invaluable in gaining better understanding of self and others.
As the author points out, the concept of “winner stays” at the neighborhood basketball court makes you choose your teammates wisely (maybe not just your best friends), forces you to make it all about the team – doing whatever it takes to win, getting honest feedback (even if it was painful) and learning to hate losing. I really like and resonate with his idea that in pickup basketball games where winner stays, you learn quickly that you either bring value to the team or you go home. “There were no parents there to tell you how good you are or try to convince the other guys to let you play”.
He also valued the experiences that made him feel uncomfortable but he learned not to judge, to speak the common language of sports across all kinds of ethnic and social divides and how to get tough. And to think that all of this happened without parental organization or presence. The pickup games were void of doctors, lawyers, and church folk acting completely inappropriately, a sight all too present at our adult organized and run youth sports programs.
Perhaps most fascinating is how the author, Mike Deegan takes those lessons and applies them to baseball and his role as a coach and a parent. Team First, Best Players Play, Value the Differences in People, Kindness Matters and Compete-Life Isn’t Easy are all core beliefs that he developed by playing pick-up basketball and now applies to his life situation.
The key, as pointed out in my book Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports, is to make our sports activities and programs age and developmentally appropriate. I doubt Coach Deegan’s experiences on the playground were at the age of 8 or 9 or even 12. Pickup basketball on the playground can be tough, but it is amazing to me to recognize how many valuable lessons can be learned without the presence of adults. Let’s keep finding ways to make the sports activities for our children developmentally appropriate and continue to value free play.