Thirty years ago, I offered a free (expenses-only) speaking engagement to any community that would abolish adult-organized-and-run children’s sports programs (except those run by high schools) and replace them with programs organized and run by the children themselves.
Each child who signed up would be assigned a letter. Every week, an announcement would tell where the children with each letter would play. So, for example, one week all the A, M, P, and W children would play at High Ridge Field at a certain time on a certain day. Three adults would be assigned to supervise each game, none of whom could have a child playing in said game.
The kids would gather and choose two captains. The captains would “toss the bat” or flip a coin to decide which of them got to choose first from among the players. Once the teams were constituted, the kids would decide who would play what position, which team would go first, and so on, and the game would proceed. If a controversy arose, such as whether a certain ball was fair or foul, the children would settle it.
The supervising adults would not interfere in the game unless it became necessary — a child became injured, for example.
This plan would ensure the “teams” were different from game to game, every child would participate, every child would play both with and “against” every other child, and most important, the children would manage their own play. People my age will recognize that my plan recreates, with adult supervision, the “sandlot” games we played as kids, when our sports were play, not performance.
Since adult-organized after-school sports replaced sandlot games (sometime in the 1970s), well-intentioned adults have been robbing children of opportunities to develop negotiation, management and leadership skills. When I was a child, for example, older kids taught the younger kids how to play a sport. Today, adults teach kids how to play.
No one took me up on my offer. Lots of people told me it was a great idea. A handful of folks even made the attempt to establish the plan, but support was lacking. The idea died.
But maybe, a new book will bring it back to life. In “The Self-Driven Child,” neuropsychologist William Stixrud and educator/entrepreneur Ned Johnson argue the youth anxiety and depression epidemics are largely due to parental over-involvement and micromanagement of children’s lives.
Today’s kids simply do not enjoy enough control over their time and activities. They are so thoroughly managed from waking to bedtime that they don’t even know how to make good decisions when it comes to spare time.
Having adequate control over one’s life is essential to feeling competent and developing emotional resilience, as well as the sort of coping skills that are essential to dealing functionally with disappointment, frustration and failure — inevitable aspects of life. Stixrud and Johnson have written a book that every parent should read and heed.
If they do, perhaps communities will take me up on my offer.
Rosemond operates two websites; johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.