Almost regardless of what other developmental purposes playing a sport might have, if children experience playing sports as fun, those objectives all become so much easier to reach, so much more joyfully.
Perhaps one of the most disappointing things about school sports is that, despite their young age, fewer and fewer children seem to have actually experienced anything close to playing sports for the fun of it.
When we were their age, we knew how to play for fun. We'd have these neighborhood pick-up games that anybody who wanted to could play. And we'd play them maybe on the sidewalk, or in the street, or on some currently vacant lawn. And if we didn't have a ball or bat or whatever, we'd make them out of whatever we had with us or could find.
We'd play games like stickball, wallball, stoopball and boxball – using unofficial equipment to play in unofficial spaces; changing the rules if we had to so it could be played by anyone who wants to; for the fun of it. In the experience of playing improvisational, homemade, environmentally sensitive sports, even winning isn't as important as fun.
These games are the foundation for a new sports event, designed specifically to restore the sense of fun to sports. It's called "Junkyard Sports," as comprehensively described in a book of the same name. Like the TV show "Junkyard Wars" (except for the "war" part) Junkyard Sports events are played in phases. During the first phase two or more teams each create a new Junkyard Sport - one that everyone has fun playing, and that takes full advantage of where it is played and what there is to play with. The second phase begins when everyone plays everyone else's sport.
And therein lies the event: fun, physical, collaborative, creative, competitive, ecologically sensitive, and just about infinitely extensible. It's an event that brings fun back into sports, that challenges kids almost at every level: intellectually, physically, socially. An event that you can hold every week, for every class or for several classes at the same time, that the kids can more or less run themselves, for the whole community, even.
Getting to lead a Junkyard Sports event is almost the opposite of what you do and how you are when you hold drill and practice sessions. You're less a gym teacher and more a Junkmaster. You find yourself gathering collections of recycled material (junk), scouting unexpected locations for the event to be held in. During the event, you're doing more cheering than what you might call "teaching" or leading" - even though you are constantly doing both.
As Junkmaster, you set the challenge. The collection of junk can have tremendous impact on the kinds of games the kids invent. The more junk, the more difficult it is to use it all. The less obviously appropriate the junk (what if nothing looks like a ball or bat or racquet or stick?) the more creativity required. The place that you select for the event has similarly powerful impact on the challenge. Playing in a hallway requires a different set of strategies and skills than playing in a gym or a playground or parking lot or sidewalk or swimming pool.
Though there are many possible solutions, the problem posed by the Junkmaster is as much of an intellectual exercise as it is physical and social. It's a kind of puzzle, and solving it, even if you never actually get to play the game you create, is fun in and of itself.
For example, how would you play soccer if you had the whole playground, including the swings, basketball court, and play structure to play in? And all you had to play with is: four beach balls, two six-inch balloons of different colors, two trash cans? Plus whatever you might find laying out in the playground? And 14 seven-year-olds, two of whom are in wheelchairs?
Here's one possible solution.
Let's call it: "Beach Ball Balloon Trash Basket Playground Soccer." Divide into teams. Each team gets a different color balloon. Balloons are placed in the middle of the play structure.
Each team sets up its goal area somewhere in the playground. The goal area is a circle, about 5 feet in diameter.
Each team selects one player to be Canner. The Canner is like a Soccer goalie, except not at all. Using the trash can, the Canner attempts to capture, hold and carry his team's balloon.
The only players who can touch a balloon are in wheelchairs. If the Canner is in a wheelchair, the Canner can also touch a balloon directly. As long as the trashcan is empty, the Canner cannot leave that area. Beach balls can only be kicked or butted. Balloons can only be hit by beach balls. And there should be no physical contact between players. The winning team is the first team whose Canner has planted that team's balloon in an opposing team's goal area.
Beach Ball Balloon Trash Basket Playground Soccer (BBBTBPS) is clearly only one of many possible soccer-like games we could create with the specified collection of materials, players and environments. We could even use the very same to make a basketball game. After all, there is a basketball court in the playground. And getting a balloon into a real basketball basket could take a lot of teamwork. Especially if there were any wind. Whereas getting a beach ball into a basketball hoop is simply impossible. Or is it?