A friend shared with me a poem, Life Cycle, by Bruce Dawe.
We had been discussing growing up around and in sport. Bruce’s poem is about Australian Rules football in Victoria.
Two verses struck me in particular:
They will not grow old as those from the more northern states grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,
That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present
I read this just before two coaching friends shared with me a link to a New York Times’ article, All Played Out, written by Ron Turker.
In the article, Ron discusses injuries to young sportspeople. He notes:
The landscape of youth sports has changed markedly in the last 20 years. Free play, where children gather after school, pick a game and play until called in for dinner, is almost extinct. Highly organized and stratified sports have become the norm. Time, place and rules are now dictated to our kids rather than organized by the kids.
Ron is a paediatric orthopedic surgeon. He reports that:
More juvenile athletes are coming in with repetitive stress injuries (both physical and, in a sense, emotional) that were once rare. Now children show up in my office repeatedly with vague aches and pains, usually in different locations and hard to diagnose but often relieved with a few weeks of rest. By the third visit, I catch on and ask whether they truly enjoy their full-time commitment. If given the emotional space, the kids will often reply no. They just want a break.
He discusses parental pressure on young players and the myth of sport scholarships. Towards the end of a wonderfully clear article he observes:
We buy the hype about scholarships to college, but the numbers don’t support the athletic route to money. Despite what your “professional coach” tells you about your child’s athletic prowess, it isn’t possible to tell if your 12-year-old has the right stuff to be a college athlete. Very few scholarships are full-ride packages; most don’t come close to covering the cost of college. But when I tell parents that their kid’s chance of scholarship money is less than 2 percent, they shake their heads in sympathy for the other 98 percent.
I am at a loss as to how we have traded playfulness for early specialisation. Perhaps it is because I am from a world that was described by Bruce Dawe and remembered from a different cultural perspective by Ron.
Primary school children (Duncan Hall, CC BY 2.0)