One of the biggest mistakes we made in this country was when we cut school sports programs â€“ especially elementary school sports programs. When I was in elementary school, starting in fourth grade, we had after-school team sports â€“ baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer. Now-a-days kids donâ€™t know how to play games â€“ and I donâ€™t mean just the rules â€“ I mean they donâ€™t know how to win, lose, pick teams, use game strategies â€“ nothing. Try to get a game of kickball going at the last 3 schools where Iâ€™ve taught with sixth graders? Forget it. Maybe 5 kids know basically how to play out of 30.
I read a book about the greatest pitchers in baseball with a reading group last year. Not one of the 8 students in the group had heard of even one of the pitchers â€“ Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, â€“ that was bad enough (but certainly not the end of the world), but the students could not relate AT ALL to the stories because they didnâ€™t have any idea how hard it is to strike out 10 or 15 batters in a game â€“ or pitch a game where no-one gets a hit â€“ or a perfect game or even how to play baseball. So the stories were drudgery for them to read â€“ totally boring. Now certainly you can get through life successfully without knowing how to play baseball or know its history (I guess) â€“ but how much harder is it to get excited about reading if you have no sports experience of any kind?
If all you ever played was volleyball â€“ you still get a sense of winning or losing a close game â€“ or just the fun of playing, getting sweaty and tired â€“ so tired you can hardly stand-up but you keep going. You have a feel for what a good play looks like and feels like â€“ so you have a tendency to recognize them in other sports.
When I played sports in elementary school it worked something like this. After school I didnâ€™t rush home so I could speed through my homework, toss down dinner, have a parent drive me across town to practice â€“ then come back and get me later â€“ putting more cars on the road, pollution in the air, more chances of being in an accident. Instead I â€¦ stayed after school. The coach (usually a teacher getting paid a small stipend) met us and ran practice until 4:30 or so. Those that didnâ€™t have their homework done that day in class â€“ stayed in class and got it done before they could practice – and if it happened twice they couldnâ€™t play in the game that week â€“ still had to practice though. Kids that had a hard time getting homework done â€¦ suddenly didnâ€™t. We have a soccer program for a few kids at my school â€“ and almost every kid that is on the team does better in school during the season.
Elementary schools tend to be located in the neighborhood â€“ most kids can walk home after practice, or itâ€™s a quick ride home later in the day when parents are more likely to be home from work. You get home before 5:00 â€“ in time for dinner, homework, and family time. No rushing around. We use facilities that are already there but arenâ€™t being used after school. Kids have something in common with other kids in their neighborhood. Of course kids donâ€™t need the exercise â€¦ theyâ€™re already in great shape â€¦ right?
All that and research shows that students that are involved in sports or other extra-curricular programs (art, dancing, scouting, music, etc.) do better in school – Is that something we should promote? The best investment this country could make would be to provide extra-curricular activities for ALL elementary school children â€“ and get more use out of facilities that are already there and waiting.
Playing and doing are messy learning!