Sports Education

Sports Education

Importance of self-learning and development

story I re-read recently reminded me of how smart kids are and how un-smart adults can sometimes be when it comes to sports education and learning.

A dad was coaching a group of young girls in baseball and hard as he tried, he couldn’t get the girls to execute a proper over-hand throw. They just kept pushing the ball forward instead of throwing it. As the amateur coach’s frustration began to boil over, one of the girls suggested they get down on their knees and throw. To the dad’s amazement, this strategy worked!

Likewise a visit to a neighbourhood play school set me thinking about how in our busy daily schedules we often tend to ignore innovative solutions that even a two-year-old can conjure up. For instance recently, a toddler participating in a group activity dutifully listened to the instructions given by the coordinator and then went on to create his own game using the ball that had been provided to him. Within a few minutes — nay seconds — rebels as they are, the other children were playing with him! Eureka, they had instantly created a new game!

As I continue to write on the theme of helping children get the most out of their sports experiences, I am increasingly convinced that the key to doing it is to put kids in charge as much as possible. Because their young minds are more amenable to new experiences and out-of-the-box solutions than our creaky, old adult brains. Children are not bound by rigid rules and fears that wrap our rusted adult minds. But they need opportunities and support to make the most of their innate mental agility. All we need to do is give them opportunities (in the incident above, it was merely a ball), a free and secure environment and perhaps a few minutes! Try this and observe how your world benefits by way of sports innovations created by an unconstrained intelligence.

For example, in my day (granted it was a very long time ago) youth sports and games were much more informal. There was no such thing as pitching machines for seven-eight-year olds or paid consultants to help kids fine-tune their batting swing. We organised our own baseball, football and basketball games — at times on dirt fields, sometimes on grass, and often under the glow of streetlights at night. We taught each other how to play; we chose our own teams, called our own plays and kept our own scores. If there were disputes — and there often were — we learned how to settle them ourselves. In the process, we learned volumes about teamwork, cooperation, fair play, creativity, and conflict resolution.

Unfortunately, such self-learning and self-development traditions are lost in these modern times of hi-tech athletics, with certified umpires, coaches and other adults running the show. Today, in the cause of discipline children are groomed to play like adults and to think within a box of rules. The free spirit of children is controlled and curbed by adults in the form of parents or coaches.

In their misguided efforts to transform children into perfect social animals, adults tend to ignore the fact that creativity and discipline originate from freedom to think without inhibition or fear.

However, as my introductory example suggests, it is not impossible to create innovation opportunities in contemporary sports environments. When we give kids the opportunity to serve as assistant coaches, umpires, managers and assistant managers, scorekeepers — even inviting them to sit on executive boards — we help them to develop the skills required to become thinkers and executives, and provide them valuable opportunities to impact their environment and shape it for the better.

Indeed, it makes sense to begin training young minds in our values and culture, by sharing with them the decision-making for their leagues and sports events. And it follows that they should share the power behind such decisions. By power sharing, adults can pass on our knowledge and skills to them, and in turn learn from their unique perspective, thus creating future leaders who understand the value of power and authority, and use it carefully. In addition, it will provide important and meaningful opportunities for less-gifted athletes or even non-athletes to participate in sports activities. Placing them in positions to understand sports and game rules will perhaps help them evolve into able sports administrators and managers.

Empowerment is the cornerstone of democratic societies. Sports programmes can and should provide opportunities for young people to participate and develop not only by way of playing opportunities but also through developing leadership, administration and management capabilities. Sports authorities and those with inert passion for games should take on the responsibility of improving standards and facilities available.

Sports education is still accorded little importance in many countries. In societies which don’t provide budgets for sports, individuals at all levels should come forward to create facilities and improve standards, to produce better citizens and competent leaders.

(Dr. George Selleck is a California-based sports psychologist and advisor to Sportz Village, Bangalore)