From the Coaches Corner: How About Some "Play"? Nov 5, 2013

By Tom Curry

I thought back to when I was a kid. There were leagues and teams, but no one took lessons for any sport. You played. Every day was another day to play and be outside in the fresh air and sunshine... Now, our children's lives are structured form cradle to college with little time left to be "a kid!" Let me ask again: Do our children play? Do they know how?

Often times when I think about what would be an interesting topic to write about each month, I get lucky and something just pops into my head. Sometimes, it's a story that happened to me or something I see on the news. This time, I happened to be observing a class in physical education and the idea for this month's column became a reality. I watched as the middle school students struggled, attempting even basic skills that we did naturally at a much younger age. Skill drills were set up for the class by the teacher who did a great job at trying to teach the skills of soccer. Many of the kids struggled. When I asked one of the students if they had played soccer before, the answer became the basis for this column.

"I don't get out that much to play," she said.
I asked, "What do you do after school?"
"Play on my computer," was her response.

I thought back to when I was a kid. Computers did not exist. Creativity was the norm. There were leagues and teams...but no one took lessons for any sport. You played. Every day was another day to play and be outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

Do our children "Play"? Now I know they play on travel and recreation and school teams. They take lessons on how to pitch, shoot a basketball, play tennis and golf and just about anything else that you might name. We have SAT and PSAT classes and tutors. There are music lessons, dance lessons, math tutors and everything else that can be taught, learned and played. Our children's lives are now structured form cradle to college with little time left to be "a kid!" Let me ask again: Do our children play? Do they know how? Or is there always an adult telling them what to do?

My cousin's son is seven years old and follows his dad around wearing an NFL jersey during football season, a Yankee shirt in baseball season and watches every game on television that he can with his dad and grandfather. My cousin sets up "play dates" for her son. I had heard about play dates and I laughed at the thought of a "play date" when I grew up. We got home from school and immediately went out to play with other kids from the neighborhood. Pick-up games of baseball, basketball, touch football, tag and stickball were the norm. If we didn't have enough for equal teams, we set up different rules so we could play that day. If we made it home before 6 pm, my mother thought something was wrong. The neighborhood was always busy every afternoon with kids playing. If it rained we went inside and played indoor games. At night during the summer, we played hide and seek, basketball, running bases, touch football and made up crazy games if we had to. It was a great time to be a kid. Summers were endless and the thought of sitting around playing something without moving, really never dawned on us. We included everyone on the block. Dads would often come out and play stickball with us at night. Hit the telephone pole with a batted ball and it was an automatic home run. We argued who was safe or out...whether teams were fair...who was better (Mantle or Mays) and we learned to get along! If a kid didn't have a glove, you left yours at shortstop so he could play the field.

Mr. Rogers would often talk about how children learned through play. How right he was! The lessons we learned proved valuable through life. We shared. We negotiated. We won. We lost. We laughed and we cried. We got hurt. We fell down and got up. We got mad at each other but got over it quickly because we had to play the next day. Valuable lessons indeed, and learned without the help of parents and adults around telling us what to do. I do realize that times are different today. No parent would leave their child at the age of seven or eight unsupervised in a park. But I would challenge today's parents to encourage their children to play! Get the kids away from the computers, the cell phones and get active!

We are all called to play. I believe it defines us all in some way. We work during the year to hopefully go on vacation and "play"! When we were born, the first thing in our crib was something to play with. A toy, a ball, a mobile...something that made us smile and grow. Our parents encouraged us as children to "play". I would hope that this article makes us all stop and remember when we were kids. While we can't go back in time, let's take every opportunity we can to let our children play! Let's limit our interference and let them solve their own problems, create their own games and let them win and lose on their own. By doing that they may establish some memories of their own and help them grow and mature in ways Fred Rogers talked about! PLAY! It's a great teacher!

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