The Importance of Play Regardless of Age

When our son was in summer day camp I would pick him up around noon. At home we would eat lunch and he would relax until 2 PM when he and I would ride bikes, swim or attempt to fish at the mud hole.

This got old real fast and I knew I had to do something. I went back to days of youth. My wife and I got on the telephone and sent e-mails to the families of the kids from day camp who I knew were in town and probably struggling with the same boredom as my son and I.

Our message was simple: Pick-up baseball at the park. Bring your glove, bat and water. The first day nine kids showed up and I did infield and batting practice with them. By the third day 26 kids showed up ranging in age from third to ninth grade. I appointed two kids as managers/captains. They had to choose teams fairly, make the batting order and assign field positions which were to be changed every inning or two so that each kid had the chance to play as many positions as desired. I did the pitching to keep the game moving.

Kids came on foot, by bike, on scooters, and by car. Parents could stay or they could do whatever they had or wanted to do. I scheduled the game to go from 2-4 PM when parents would arrive to take their kids home. No one wanted to be first to take their kid home and many were the times that we played until 6 PM when I would take the initiative by shutting things down.

One of the Mom’s brought Ice-Pops one day. I politely suggested she take them home and use them for another occasion since the kids did not need a sweet treat they needed a healthy meal, a bit of rest and then back to the park with their buddies do Play ball, ride bikes, climb a tree, play Man-Hunt or just be kids.

The kids went home tired, hungry and ready for tomorrow. Often I would get calls at home from kids and parents wanting to know if the game was on for tomorrow. This is what kids should be doing. Playing without the yelling, screaming, hollering, structure, trophies, pictures and goodie bags. The kids were outdoors where they belonged having fun, resolving their own issues, learning about life and just having fun at play.

On the weekends if there was a game I let other Dads, who were busy during the week, get involved and be part of the action as I sat back and watched. At first they wanted to do everything manage, organize, control, badger, harass, frustrate, annoy, holler, yell, scream, etc., as they did when they were coaching but soon learned and were encouraged by me to back away and let the kids be kids.

All those kids are now in college, many have complete their undergraduate degrees, are planning their futures or working. When they around and we meet their first remarks are about the great time and fun they had playing “Pick-Up” baseball at the park.

Let me go one step further into adult Play.

When our daughter was an infant she was what is known as not a good sleeper. For her and then our son, an hour or so was sufficient sleep resulting in our kids being up almost every hour on the hour for an hour. My wife “expressed’ her milk and I fed the babies so my wife could sleep. Remember sleep deprivation is everything it is cracked up to be.

Throughout my life I have always played pick-up ball mostly basketball and, in recent years, soccer. I have very limited skills, talents and abilities, however, the guys are kind to the old and feeble and let me play even when I do not bring the ball. I have my aches and pains but the pain of not playing is far worse than any pain I have learned to endure.

Now back to our daughter and her sleep patterns. I was getting desperate for physical activity aka PLAY. I tried going to the park and schools at various times on many different times of the day or early evening. Nothing. No game. I was quite shocked. I knew there had to be a game somewhere.

He who seeks shall find. But this time It was not me who did the finding. My wife and infant daughter went to a neighborhood Mommy and Me “Play-date” (Note the word Play) where the Mom’s could talk, vent and otherwise receive unofficial treatment and therapy for Motherhood.

My wife was on one side of the room and heard the word basketball coming from the other side of the room. It is the radar Mom’s have that tells them which of the four cries the babies are doing preparing me and hopefully other fathers as well, to change a diaper, feed the baby, hold the baby or put the baby in the crib for a nap. Only Mom’s can tell the four cries apart. Nature is quite beautiful and wonderful. Fathers are beautiful and wonderful when they do what is asked of them by their wives.

My wife dashed to the scene of the word basketball and quickly asked: “Where’s the game, my husband is desperate”. My wife got the details, gave me the information and the next night I was playing pick-up basketball.

I went to the school gym ahead of given time. I immediately knew who was in charge and went up to him asking if I could play. I told him I did not want to take another guys spot, I would pay the fee and I can bring a ball. He told, “son you’re in. I pay the fee and bring the balls. There is always room for another player.” He was from Indiana and a big Hoosier at heart so he knew the value of my concern, situation and desire.

I played with those guys for four years. Then, all of a sudden, there was no game. My Hoosier basketball friend had passed away and nobody picked up the slack. I saw a couple of the guys and we managed a few games at the playground but that too fizzled after a few nights of play.

One night I drove past the park and there was three on three game with two of the guys being my former basketball playmates. I parked the car and got into the game. We all knew a few other players and within two weeks we were running full court twice at night during the week and in the early mornings on Saturdays and Sundays.

That was twenty five years ago and the game is still on. I am the last of the original crew still playing but have “recruited” or rather found or they found the game, many players. The next generation is playing with us many who grew up in town. Some are the kids from my pick-up baseball venture. They play and often will bring one their buddies. The game is open to all.

We play during the school year sometimes using both gyms in either of the two schools where we play. The summer game is off and on but it gives me a chance to rest the old and aching body getting ready for September. I only want two things if life: The Truth (hard to get) and Another Season (Life) especially basketball.

That was Pick-up Baseball with kids and Pick-up Basketball for the older folks.

Now it is time for Pick-Up Soccer.

Both our kids played Youth Soccer.

One day a few of us parents / coaches arranged for a game against our kids. It was well attended and afterward a few of us said “why not get together for a Sunday morning Pick-up soccer game”.

What started out as six v six game quickly spread to a full field game with often enough players for three teams of 11 or 12 players each where we rotated at 15 minute intervals.

As with my Pick-up baseball and Pick-up basketball games the game rapidly spread by word of mouth, the very best form of advertising and promotions since it has built in trust. For the past fifteen years we have had an international showing of players from South America, Europe, Asia,The United States, The Middle East and a few of the Island nations.

The games are Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. When a holiday occurs such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, yes Christmas, we get a full field turn-out most of the time. Guys want to get a good workout and sweat before they indulge in their family feast.

Many are the languages that are spoken but the common language is that round soccer (futbol) ball which unites nations, people and especially the kids when they come to play.

Different guys bring different connections making it possible to play year round weather permitting, on artificial turf with goals and nets.

Here too, many of the younger players I know from youth sports come to play. When they are in town they know where to find the game.

I told you I have very little basketball skills but I have fewer soccer skills. Here again, the guys are kind to me, many of them not knowing the local origin of the game they are playing and the game they love having been born into the soccer culture and society.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if kids had more time to PLAY there would less or maybe none at all of the symptoms, behaviors and actions associated and attributed to ADD/ADHD, Focus, Anger, Trust, Frustration, Concentration, Less than desirable Academic Performance, Achievements in school, and relationships with family and “friends” (I have 500 friends on FACEBOOK and nobody to talk to or even who will listen to me).

Perhaps. just perhaps, all the Life and Coping Skills learned on the field of play: Teamwork, Competition, Organization, Promptness (the game is at 2 PM, if you are late you sit and wait) Listening, Leadership, Empowerment, Critical Thinking, Awareness, Sharing, Manners, Protocol, Time Management, Playing by the Rules, Discipline, Resiliency, Determination, Fun, Laughter, Smiling, Humor, Silliness, Respect, Conflict Resolution, Getting Dirty and not have someone in your face brushing you off, Accountability, Responsibility, Consequences, Winning with Pride (not jumping up and down) Losing with Dignity ready for the next game, Confidence, Succeeding through Struggles, Overcoming Obstacles, Conquering Concerns, Building Self Esteem, Learning how to Learn by playing the game and much more would all be reduced or eliminated without the need to send the kids to “experts”, head jockeys, therapists, counselors, specialists and so forth. That is the POWER OF PLAY.

Perhaps, just perhaps, schools and teachers could go back to teaching, real teaching  while removing BLAME from the school staff and putting it back where it belongs: in the home with the parent(s).

Perhaps, just perhaps, when kids are given the time to get out the school building, PLAY, run, jump, yell scream, holler, chase each other, climb something, kick a ball, jump rope, talk with and to each other, get away from all the screens, distractions and adults (except for a few staff for safety purposes) academic achievement would increase, behaviors would be appropriate, success will be gained,

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the parts of the school building could be open and available during the most needed times such a Summer. Christmas Break and Easter Break ,since not everyone goes to Disney or Skiing, kids would a safe place to PLAY in the gym, create in the Art Rooms, Read a book in the Library or do some supervised crafts, engineering or computer projects. Volunteers would flock to the scene to be part of something good for the kids. Now, we know of course, most kids do not want their parents overseeing everyone for many reasons mostly embarrassment opportunities which for the weaker parents is always a concern. Parents must remember it is not about them it is about the kids.

When you talk to and with kids. When you listen to kids twice as much as you speak, thank you Mark Twain. When you give kids the greatest and most useful gift possible, no not a goodie bag, trophy, team picture, uniform, snacks, latest and most expensive gear making them appear like you want them to appear and not as kids. The gift of your TIME is most precious, valuable , appreciated and needed preparing them for their futures. When do all that and, of course, a little bit more you EMPOWER Kids to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

So there it is. My way, guaranteed to meet with resistance and ridicule from all the experts who recite study after study after study with all the evidence, statistics and proof that it works their way best. Everything is fine until it is not. Basics stay basic and the basics are what satisfies needs. Kids need the basics so they can thrive and survive. I am aware that part of today’s basics include technology in many forms but let us include Play in that formula as well. The results will be overwhelmingly positive. The basics are time tested and proven as well only they have been forgotten by the current leadership, decision makers and policy scribes. PLAY is a basic. PLAY is the new normal whatever normal is. OH, the power of definition.

I am a simple guy which is why folks get along with me. They like the simple things in life.

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