Regarding Unstructured Sports
Unstructured sports, or pick-up games as we use to call them when I was a kid, are great for building organization, cooperation and leadership according to recent research1. We just picked teams and played, but in the process, we called balls and strikes, who was safe or not, who carried or made a foul on the court, touchdowns, pass interference and clipping, all pretty much by consensus. There was a lot of negotiating and if they wanted to, everybody played regardless of age or sex. This kind of interaction is lacking in the world of today’s youth.
It worked most of the time. When it didn’t work by consensus or when the older kids couldn’t settle an argument over a controversial call, it rarely–but only rarely–ended up in a fight. Nobody was actually hurt aside from a bloody nose. We learned how to negotiate with our peers. We knew what we couldn’t get away with on the field. It worked and they were some of the best days of my life. We would be out there, weather permitting, almost every day because it was fun. And as much fun as we were having, we were also engaging in the first real social contract of our lives. Allowing kids to navigate these social experiences and trusting them to negotiate with each other helps them physically, mentally and socially succeed.
When I mentioned this at the discussion about bringing new life to the Recreation Center, I never had a chance to respond to Sandy Cuny, who I respect and admire for her civic dedication. I wanted to say that the audience that might be attracted to this type of unstructured play would most likely be teens and young adults up into their thirties in the evenings. Young children unaccompanied by an adult or sibling would be allowed to participate in the evenings but might be better suited to a supervised session after school until about 6. This was the way it was when I first moved here in 1980 and it seemed to work well. Can it be resurrected? Now more than ever, we need a safe place for our kids of all ages to interact with each other in positive ways. Parents don’t feel as good about letting their children roam freely as long as they’re home on time for dinner, which is precisely why we need to dedicate this space to the people who have the best opportunities ahead of them: our kids. Let’s help them make themselves the people we know they can be.
My regards to Coach Phil Alfonso for organizing the session and all the parents concerned enough to attend.