“Zoom” © R.L. Herron

You don’t have to go far to see how we have super-organized the lives of our children. Just look at the average park or neighborhood school yard and you will see it.

Organized youth baseball, softball, soccer and football abound. Basketball and hockey are included, too, as is nearly every sport you can name. Kids go to camps for everything from sports to music and adults mentor, instruct and shepherd them every step of the way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of kids who don’t have the opportunity who would love the chance to participate.

But whatever happened to kids organizing their own games?

I played baseball, basketball and football as a kid, and some of it was on organized teams and leagues.

An awful lot of it, however, was just kids getting together and deciding to play whatever game it was that day. We’d figure out where to go, choose our own teams and enforce the rules ourselves, sometimes adjusting them to accommodate too many or too few players.

We didn’t always have all the equipment we needed. Football was played with just a football, or at least a football-shaped object. No helmets. No pads. No special shoes.

Two pass completions might equal a first down, regardless of yardage gained.

Baseball sometimes used actual baseballs, but it frequently used taped-up round things that might once have been baseballs, and bats that were occasionally only big, smooth sticks of the appropriate length.

Mitts were shared, and bases might simply be paper bags held in place with a rock. “Shirts and skins” were our uniform designations.

It didn’t take a lot of technology, no electricity, and we certainly didn’t need joysticks for anything. We also didn’t need leagues overseen by committees of adults who required monetary deposits for entry, insisted on parental insurance waivers and treated everything like it was the World Series, World Cup or Super Bowl.

We would play the games, on actual ball fields if they were available, in an open field or someone’s yard, if not.

We would monitor ourselves, keep our own score and settle our own arguments, all without an adult standing over us.

We never heard of frivolous lawsuits, field reservations or player statistics. Still, we learned how to interact with each other and express ourselves. Most of all, we had fun.

Are we that afraid today of letting kids out of our sight?

What a sad state of affairs. I can’t help wondering if today’s kids, with all the new technology available, adult organization and special things at their disposal aren’t somehow worse off than we were.

Doesn’t anyone want to have a catch?


6 Responses to “Organization”

  1. John Parry Says:

    Several other thought’s have struck me on this subject Ron. My wife was a psychologist, and made a serious study of “Theory of Mind” – the process whereby children come to realise that other people are real too, and have thoughts, hopes and aspirations, just as they do. They come to this realisation through a process of disorganised playing with their peers, learning, among other important lessons, that others are capable of deception and selfishness, and that these characteristics are “not very nice”.

    The consequences of not learning a theory of mind can be devastating – from autism (where others are regarded as ‘things’), through the spectrum of asperger’s syndrome (where the symptoms, among others, can range from mild selfishness to an inability to relate to others on a personal basis).

    The other vital lesson learned from disorganised play is that of Risk Assessment. Every child who’s ever swung on a rope hanging from a tree knows that eventually the rope will fray and break. When they climb on the rope, they automatically (eventually!) ask themselves “What are the chances of it breaking while I’m the one swinging from it, and what are the consequences if it does break?” Their assessment will take into account factors like “How high is the drop below the end of the rope?” (they are invariably slung from trees on the side of ravines!), and “What’s the condition of the rope where it passes over the bough?”.

    The situation is complicated by parental economics. Many parents these days limit themselves to one or two children for many reasons. Having made that decision, their emotional investment in the individual kids is correspondingly heightened – and the temptation to cocoon the children through their childhood years is therefore greater these days.

    They should think carefully before succumbing to that temptation. If you leave kids to fend for themselves, they will learn that falling 6 feet from a tree may hurt but it won’t kill you. Falling 12 feet will hurt like hell, and from that comes the realisation that falling from 30 feet very well COULD kill you. And that realisation, although it won’t stop them, will cause them to exercise a great deal more care the higher they go. And that’s the best outcome you could hope for really.


  2. Ron Herron Says:

    “Coats for goalposts” — I love the imagery!


  3. John Parry Says:

    “Coats for goalposts”. A different kind of football of course, but during the summer holidays we’d turn up first thing in the morning in the local park, and play till dusk. Or climb 100 foot trees because we could.

    A favourite game was ‘conkers’, where the seeds of horse chestnut trees (conkers), are threaded onto a knotted string. One antagonist would dangle his conker for his opponent to try to smash to pieces. If he didn’t succeed, it was his turn to hold up his conker to be attacked. Pretty innocuous fun you’d think?

    Schools in the UK still allow the children to play conkers – but, due to Health and Safety, they now insist on the kids wearing safety glasses and gloves.

    They don’t bother nowadays…

    Regards – John


  4. Peter Wallage Says:

    I think you’re correct in many respects, Ron. I think kids do enjoy organised activities but not to the exclusion of making their own games. If we reach that point we’ll have stifled what I think are two essentials to growing up, individuality and creativity.

    In some ways parents are to blame. Not so much in smaller towns maybe but in cities yes, parents are afraid to let kids out of their sight which is a very sad reflection on society today.

    The danger is that if we don’t allow kids to grow up with freedom and free time they will become bored with periods between organised activities. Boredom, as many people know, often leads to vandalism and petty crime which, in turn, leads to more serious crime as they grow up.

    They are acting out in real life the self-organised games of cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians or earth troops versus alien invaders that they should have played with make-believe weapons when they were younger.



  5. Michael J. Medved Says:

    Ron…you are right on the money with kids almost always playing in something organized. That said, I still notice my grandson (8 years old)and his friends playing with their cars & trucks and, get this, electric trains….I guess all is not lost, but sometimes we make kids grow up too fast…..Keep up the writing. I enjoy it ….Mike


  6. Susan Light Says:

    Great article. I like to think our kids will still be wonderful because of their time on this earth and what they did that was different than our generation. You just sited one big difference. Don’t you wonder what their article will say in another ten to twenty years? They may or may not consider freedom of sports activities, but instead freedom from electronic tools, or will they?


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