Sunday, August 22, 2010

What happened to losing?

I began playing organized basketball in the fourth grade. But the basketball experiences that shaped me much more were the pickup games played on the courts in the center of town. The action there was intense, yet there was never an adult in sight. We kids ran the show. Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

I don't remember as a kid, in a game of street hockey, having problems with dads beating the crap out of each other—like you hear now. Or cheating. If Johnny played dirty, he didn't play, okay? No appeals to the league, meetings. No adults required. And it wasn't that we weren't competitive. I had a poster the size of my wall of Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal in the Stanley Cup series of 1970. I was into hockey.

Now, when I entered high school and I was made to compete, I rebelled. You can put me in the outfield, and threaten me with not graduating, but you can't make me chase after the ball. Talk about killing the joy of the game. Gym coaches were the prison guards of my scholastic experience.  Then, after school, I would play Wiffle ball until the street lights came on.

What's the difference? The kids were in charge. We self-organized.

The other day, I was having a tire replaced. The owner of the shop called a distributor, asked for delivery and ended the conversation this way: "I didn't foul you. I rebounded it fair and square." That bounce of the ball occurred fifty years ago. In high school. Still couldn't let it go. I bet there was a real shiny reward at stake.

Yet, I couldn't tell you if any game of street hockey stood out. Except one: we played a bunch of middle-aged men in a pick up game. Our youth against their experience. Man, did they rub it in when they won. We were stunned. That's not how we played. We hip-checked each other and apologized later, and congratulated the winner (good game, good game), assured that it could probably be us next time.

I remember playing just for a win, not a trophy. The stakes were low. Now everyone gets a trophy, and I'm guessing the kids aren't fooled with this award inflation.  If one trophy is the problem, how are more trophies the solution? Who introduced trophies in the first place? My guess is not someone ten years old.

I'm wondering if taking adults out of kids' games is the answer. Along with the shiny.


  1. I'm baffled by the whole "everyone's a winner, but my kid's the BIG WINNER, and if he doesn't win you're all going to pay..." mentality that kids sports seem to have. But I do have a funny story about sports trophies.

    My seven year old nephew got a cheap basketball trophy, that his three year old sister immediately broke. When my sister asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him, all he would tell her was "He wanted a basketball trophy."

    You might think this shows a heartwarming attachment to the basketball trophy and what it represented to him. But the truth is, that it's a sign of a kid who has so many things, that he can't even think of anything he wants for Christmas.

  2. Trophies: the merchandising of 'attaboys'. Any kid will tell you that a good word means so much more.


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