It really doesn’t matter that I am approaching 40. I still get a kick out of doing things I did as a kid and the fact that I have children affords me the opportunity to play like a kid as much as I want. So when the head coach of my son’s baseball team asked if we would be open to playing hooky from work to get the kids together for an impromptu game, I arranged to make that happen. We sent out an e-mail to the other parent’s, offered to provide transportation and sat back waiting for a sandlot game that sadly, never really happened the way we envisioned it.
Let me set the tone by first saying that as a child, if someone invited me to play baseball, ride bikes, go fishing or throw rocks into a creek, I was there. True, we didn’t have cable TV and the Atari gaming system was the new thing in technology but that being said, I cannot remember a friend or acquaintance to ever turn down the opportunity to play a pick-up baseball game. It was an event. When we arrived at the ball field where we practice on a beautiful Spring afternoon, a day after school was out for Summer, there was not a single child; No one riding bikes, no one playing ball and not a soul on the playground. It reminded me of the towns in shows like The Walking Dead where the town is still standing but the people are gone. Never mind the fact the kids are most likely indoors becoming
zombies by draining their brains on ipads, PS4’s, etc.
We did get a few kids from the team to show up and eventually some neighborhood kids put down their gaming systems to peek out and join the fun but the best we could do is field enough players for a round of Indian Ball. Pretty sure that’s not the PC term but that’s what we called it growing up. Now cable TV and gaming systems aside, why aren’t kids out playing? Here are some potential reasons.
In 2002, 9 million kids between the ages of 7-17 played baseball according to the National Sporting Goods Association but by 2013 that number had dropped to 5.3 million kids. Likewise, the number of kids participating in youth softball dropped from 5.4 million to 3.2 million over the same time frame but it isn’t just baseball. Other sports such as soccer and basketball have also declined. One theory is that with the specialization of sports, select teams and the drive to turn 7 year olds into #1 draft picks, the emphasis is on performance and not fun or exercise. In return you have a bunch of pudgy, disinterested kids who aren’t “good enough” to play on a team. In the drive for excellence is it possible we have sucked the fun out of youth sports?
And let’s go back to technology. It certainly is a factor and I am just as guilty as the next person as I Facebooked, Tweeted and posted pics of the day on Instagram. I also think as parents, we are so programmed and distracted in our careers, we fail to see the value of simple play. If it isn’t important to us, it won’t be important to our kids. Say what you will about organizations like the NFL but their Play
60 campaign is doing everything it can to get kids off their duff and outside. This isn’t about creating professional or even high level amateur athletes. It is about creating healthy kids and encouraging physical activity.
No, we didn’t have enough kids to field a team, but we played 2 ½ hours and had a blast. Even Coach Woodrow and Koerber took some at bats which had the kids fired up for more; they relished the idea they could strike us out. For the record, that did not happen. And it is doubtful that any of the kids on the field that day will play professional ball. Maybe only a handful will play into high school but that
isn’t the point. The more we lose sight of the value of play and allow busy schedules to use gaming systems and Netflix to raise our kids, the closer we come to failing our kids as parents.
Today, do something different. Dig your glove out of the basement and ask your kid for a catch. Can’t find your glove? Pick up a football. Not into sports at all, go for a walk until you find a creek and throw some rocks. They may look at you cross-eyed and initially, may even resist. Stand firm, have a catch and help your kids learn the value of play.