My 10-year-old beat me the other day at “Around the World.”
Remember that one? It’s a basketball contest in which you have to make shots from designated spots in a semicircle around the basket. You work from one side of the court to the other as you make baskets, then work your way back again.
And while the victory, in his mind, might be viewed as some rite of passage, for me it was a cause for reflection. No, the defeat was not a big deal — although I promise it won’t happen again for many, many years — but the competition was.
You see, I was reliving my childhood. Or at least a small part of it. Because if my friends and I weren’t playing “Around the World,” we were competing in “500” in the street. Or whiffle ball in the backyard. Or tennis at the park.
There were 2-on-2 tournaments in the driveway and countless games of H-O-R-S-E and football games in the street. Why, one of my childhood memories is of my friend, Dave, who for a time thought nothing of running into a parked car or sliding on the blacktop in an effort to catch a pass like a 12-year-old Lynn Swann.
When it got dark, the kids in the neighborhood played hide-and-seek, sneaking into the neighbor’s yard to hide behind a bush without once being told to get off the lawn. When it rained, we moved inside for a game of “All-Star Baseball” or “Bowl Bound” or table-top hockey.
And as I reflect upon these now-ancient memories, the point isn’t to delve into nostalgic sentimentality. Instead, it is to delve into how those games helped form us into the titans of maturity we eventually became.
Because the most important part of all those games isn’t that we were playing. No, it’s that we made the rules. We interacted. We learned — on our own — to resolve disputes and to handle winning and losing.
We had no choice. Video games and the Internet hadn’t been invented yet, a fact of life that my kids have difficulty comprehending.
While much ink has been expended in recent years to denigrate modern youth sports or kids’ lack of physical activity these days, I think those things I mention above have been the greatest loss.
With the proliferation of organized athletics, kids no longer have to fend for themselves when it comes to sports. They no longer have to devise games in the street in which they invent or tweak the rules to suit their own interests.
They’re too busy running off to an organized basketball practice in a gym.
Youth sports are a wonderful thing. Kids learn many valuable lessons and they improve their skills, and many thanks should go out to all the adults who spend time playing a role in a child’s development.
But with all the games being organized these days under adult supervision — youth soccer begins as early as age 3 — I can’t help but think that something has been lost.
My kids have competed in organized soccer and volleyball and baseball and basketball and tae kwon do and probably a few activities I can’t even remember.
But I probably can count on one hand the number of times they have participated in a pickup basketball game. I probably can count on two hands the number of times they have had to compete without an adult on hand to organize the proceedings.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I’m just being overly sentimental about my childhood. But, hey, I’m old; I’m supposed to be overly sentimental.
So now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go practice my “Around the World” shots.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by email at email@example.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne