“Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmallows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden. The people that made the shoes must have watched a lot of winds blow the trees and a lot rivers going down to the lakes.”
“Well, as anyone knew, the hills around town were wild with friends putting cows to riot, playing barometer to the atmospheric changes, taking sun, peeling like calendars each day to take more sun. To catch those friends, you must run much faster than foxes or squirrels. As for the town, it streamed with enemies grown irritable with heat, so remembering every winter argument and insult. Find friends, ditch enemies! That was the Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot motto. Does the world run too fast? Want to be alert, stay alert? Litefoot, then! Litefoot! “
“Whatever you want, he thought, you got to make your own way. During the night now, let’s find that path through the forest. . . .”
Ray Bradbury, The Sound of Summer Running
Recently at an ASPEN Institute Project Play workshop held in Chicago we asked the participants to share their favorite memory of playing as a kid. Of the over 40 people who ranged in age from early 20’s to their 70’s not one recalled an instance involving winning or even participating in an organized youth sports event. All of the memories were about playing with friends in parks, in the country, in their backyards. And you could see from the looks in their eyes that these were cherished memories that will never be forgotten. This is not an unusual result, numerous studies are now showing the benefits of “free play” for the development of healthy happy children. What’s this tell us about how we do sports when despite all the time, effort and money we “adults” put into making sports fun for our kids that they gain more enjoyment from just playing on their own and with their friends. My take is we need to rethink how we do youth sports in this country and probably in a lot of other places as well. We need to really think about why and how we do it. And if its not right we need to change it.
I’ll be working with sports organizations, educational institutions, athletic directors, coaches, parents, and athletes to ask these questions and figure out and implement solutions. There are a lot of great people out there that are doing great things to make the athletic and sports experience better for our young people and our society as a whole. My goal is to assist and support this work and where needed be the “hammer” that drives the “nail” of change for the better.
So let’s start our journey down that path….