Sometimes I wonder just how smart we parents are. With the best of intentions we do things for our children, all under the belief that they are receiving the best possible things from us.
Center stage in this is our determination to involve them in organized recreational activities. Kids are members of leagues—football, baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and a hundred others. Every mom and dad is going to make sure that Little Johnny and Sweet Susie are involved with teams that will allow them to flourish.
Some of us have determined that our kids will excel in a sport, so they need to be on open league teams. They’re the ones that travel all over hell’s half acre in search of weekend tournaments. Parents spend fortunes on motel rooms, bats, bags, gloves, and an assortment of equipment so their children have every advantage. Sports that aren’t in season offer camps, so no one escapes the cash drain or a vacationless summer.
I was as guilty as any parent about pushing my kids into organized sports. I spent too much time and effort coaching teams on which they played, even though my athletic gifts are few, if any. It’s because of my mistakes that I urge parents to unite in an effort to create a new youth sporting experiment---the garden hose leagues.
Actually, this isn’t something new. It was the primary means of games for kids a generation ago. When I was a child, our yard was the setting for football games. On any particular afternoon during the week, a gang of elementary school aged boys could be found in the “lower lot.” In the fall, we played football. Most of the time, the games were tackle. Touch football was for sissies.
Several times a game, play was halted as boys clutched legs, arms, and heads that had been bumped, banged, or bruised. Tears were sometimes shed until the sting of an injuries passed, and then the stricken were back in the game and giving as good as they got.
Usually, a fight broke out between two boys. They’d exchange insults and pushes until one threw a punch. Windmill fists filled the air until the fight went to the ground. After some grappling, the two separated and hurled more barbs, and on occasion, a boy might utter a profanity. We all knew that the next school day the two combatants would be friends again.
Summer time brought the same group of boys to the yard. This time, we played softball as small kids and baseball when we’d reached ten or eleven. We’d set out the bases for the game—slabs of marble that lined flowerbeds or made walks. Teams were chosen after captains’ hands climbed the neck of a bat to see who went first. For the game we’d have one, maybe two, balls, a couple of wooden bats, and no catcher equipment. Boys shared gloves with those who didn’t own one.
Baseball games weren’t usually interrupted with fights. Sure, teams exchanged insults or argued whether or not a batter was out at second base. However, we sometimes halted a game to look for a ball that had been hit into the woods. With luck, we’d find it and renew the contest. If not, the game would be called. When Amy and I built our house, I found some of those old baseballs as I cleaned undergrowth from the area.
Regardless of the type of game, one thing was a constant. We boys would play hard and end up covered with dirt, grass, sweat. Breaks were held, and all of us lined up to get a drink. I’d turn on the water, and each guy would slurp water from the end of the garden hose. No Gatorade or sports drink was available. Neither were energy bars or other goofy snacks that parents brought. Oh, another thing for sure is that not one of us got a trophy because we participated.
The games we played were every bit as competitive as those of today’s league.
Parents need to form Garden Hose Leagues in communities everywhere. It’s time that kids got back to playing for the fun of it. Neighborhood groups of boys and girls can play football or baseball or soccer or basketball at someone’s house. They’ll get plenty of exercise, make plenty of friends, and enjoy being young and pressure-free, and all it will cost parents is the price of a garden hose and some water.