School Dodgeball Ban: New Hampshire District Stops ‘Human Target’ Sports, Citing Bullying.
Students attending Windham schools in New Hampshire won’t be dodging balls during gym class anymore. The school district voted to ban dodgeball and other “human target” sports in a recent 4-1 decision, according to multiple sources.
“We spend a lot of time making sure our kids are violence free,” Windham Superintendent Henry LaBranche told the Eagle-Tribune. “Here we have games where we use children as targets. That seems to be counter to what we are trying to accomplish with our anti-bullying campaign.”
As adults we spend a great deal of time to ensure the safety of our children and of course take all the steps necessary to help them cope and deal with the bullying behavior in schools, and in their community. But let’s take a look at what is really happening here, and why we have to help our children develop greater resiliency and learn how to compete and develop stronger pro social skills through something that I call play ground politics.
As a young boy on any given summer day I would leave my house early in the morning with a bat, a ball and a glove and would play baseball until the sun went down. No supervision, just a gang of guys playing ball together. We had a couple of bucks in our pocket, for a soda and a hot dog, took breaks, welcomed other kids who wanted to play, worked on our skills, set up our own rules, and in general had a great time. Did we all get along? Of course not. Were there bullies amongst us? You bet. Did we experience at times some fear and intimidation because of these bullies? We did. But, everyone stayed and played, we solved our own problems, we learned how to get along, and discovered a healthy pecking order on the field. What we learned on that field were lessons that lasted a lifetime. We all knew how to play the game of playground politics. I am not a proponent of bullying, nor do I believe that bullying is some sort of right of passage. I do believe that bullying is on the rise in part because of the inability of our kids today to develop greater emotional resiliency and solve interpersonal problems on their own. One of the goals of any anti bullying program should be to strengthen the victim and provide them with the pro social skills necessary to function in an adult world. The superintendent of the Wyndham school district in New Hampshire wants to be sure that kids are violence free. I agree. But let’s work on the displaced anger of parents who are at a loss themselves when it comes down to teaching their kids interpersonal skills and in that effort really take a stand by helping to eliminate the absolute dysfunction that plagues our schools. Competition is healthy and kids need to learn how to compete in a healthy way. They learn from competition. Banning dodge ball is only the beginning. There are plenty of sports that could be viewed as exclusive and potentially violent. Football, hockey, lacrosse, even soccer can involve body contact. Sports do involve exclusion, or at least they are supposed to because someone has to win and someone has to lose.
Let’s take a look at what kids could learn by properly playing the game of playground politics and how it can benefit them as they move into adult life.
Life is not Win-Win – My daughter Grace was and still is involved with a traveling soccer team. Several years ago at the conclusion of the season she and all of the other team members received a trophy at an end of the season party. Grace never missed practice, went to all of the games, and to boot she was the MVP of the team. She received an additional trophy because of this accomplishment. On the way home in the car Grace said to me; “Dad you know that about half of the team missed practices, didn’t go to some games, and really never gave their best efforts when they played. How do they deserve a trophy?” Well, how do they deserve a trophy? I don’t really know. I do know this though: everyone is not a winner. If that were the case we wouldn’t have a Super Bowl, World Series, or political elections. The game of playground politics needs to reinforce the fact that there are those that are bigger, better, smarter, and stronger and recognize those kids for the skills that they have and not put them on the same level ground as everyone else. Because the ground is truly not level. As a young boy myself, I knew that I didn’t have the same skills in baseball as some of my teammates, I still respected their skill. The good feelings came because I worked, and practiced, and put forth my best effort. Did the team always win? Of course not. We lost a lot. Watching the movie Moneyball really hit home with me. Billy Beane the general manager of the Oakland Athletics put together a baseball team that in 2002 won twenty consecutive games. They went to the playoffs and lost in the first round. His heart and soul was in constructing a team on a shoe string budget, and he did. But in the final analysis he is still trying to win the last game of the season, which would make the Oakland Athletics the World Series Champs. Everybody doesn’t win. There are winners and there are losers. Losers lose for a variety of reasons, and they have to accept the lose as part of life.
Competition is a Good Thing At Any Age – As adults we compete all the time for promotions, academic recognition, and at times status. It is part of life. Kids need to know how to compete in the real world as soon as they enter the game of playground politics. Our society wants to eliminate games like dodge ball, tag, and even spelling bees because of the belief that it promotes exclusion and we don’t want kids to feel bad. Well, by eliminating competition kids will begin to feel good about themselves for no apparent reason. They will develop an entitlement mentality and believe that the world revolves around them. They will not have a clear understanding of their own limitations and will begin to see competition as a threat to who they are as a person. Several years ago a school district in northern New Jersey faced a dilemma. Six students had grade point averages that were so close that they couldn’t decide who the valedictorian of the high school was going to be.
The simple use of a calculator could have helped determine who it was going to be. But because of the fear of parental complaints and law suits, you guessed it all six students were named valedictorian. The parents and the students feared the competition and believed again that we all win.
Playground Politics Teaches Respect For Someone Else’s Ability – Some kids can run faster, jump higher, and are just genetically better athletes and at times better students. Kids know on the playground that if the kid that was “IT” in the game of tag was the fastest running kid in the school that he wasn’t going to be “IT” for very long. His speed was respected. The last thing we want to see is the best hitter on the baseball team coming to bat with the bases loaded. Kids need to learn how to be respectful and at times admire those with greater ability then they have. By admiring I don’t mean to feel inferior to someone, but just to recognize it as something that is unique to him. Kids can become fearful and at times angry when they enter into competition with someone who has greater athletic or academic skills then they have. The schools then eliminate competition because they don’t want to affect the self esteem of the child. This does nothing more then to prepare him for a life of jealously and envy as they grow older and only wishing that they were someone else.
Playground Politics Teaches Kid How To Make Friends – Kid want and need friends, but knowing how to pick friends is a troublesome job for some. Games like basketball, football, and other sports teach kids a sense of team play. I am not talking here about sports that kids play in an organized way as part of a traveling league or as part of a high school team. I am talking about the games they play by themselves as part of recess during the school day. Most kids today have not been taught how to organize themselves, pick teams, and get a game going. Putting together a pick up game helps kids make friends; friends with similar abilities who they can play and compete with on a reasonable level and offer encouragement to one another. I hate to say it, but once parents and coaches get involved in organizing kids the sense of fun and friendship seems to be taken out of the sport and the kids seem to suffer the frustration, anxiety, and tension of the competition which is imposed upon them by a coach. That is not what competition is about; it’s about camaraderie, encouragement, and a love for the sport they are playing.
The Playground Teaches Balance and Academic Consistency – In almost every state today kids have to pass a standardized test that determines their placement for the next school year. Not to mention the state funding that the district gets if all kids do well. School have been trained that teachers have to teach to the test so when the springtime comes and the test is administered all students will have the requisite academic skills in order to pass. All fall and winter kids are subject to what I call drill and kill. Less and less time gets spent moving around and more and more time is spent in a seat. Recesses are shorter and student behavior has gotten worse. The kids get out of balance and suffer from what I call a scarcity mentality. What this means is that time for movement is scarce so the student has to figure out a way to steal it during class time. Gone are the days when if a student finished his/her work they could go outside and play a game of kickball. Now, when the work gets done what the student has to look forward to is, you guessed it more work. An abundant mentality teaches that at some point I will be able to move and play, so by completing the work in a timely fashion I will have that opportunity. Students develop greater academic consistency and success by being given the time to be involved with free play.
Coaching Is Not Just About Sports – If we want our kids to develop pro social skills we have to coach them through the game of life one step at a time. We have to teach them how to be graceful losers, develop friendship skills, how to compete in a respectful and responsible manner, and how to solve interpersonal problems where space is allowed for productive conflict. This will not happen over night. The bullying epidemic which society faces today is a direct result of exclusion. Too many things have been excluded from our schools that help teach kids how to get along and develop the necessary confidence and resiliency to face their fears and understand how to function as part of a class, a group, or a team. This problem is beyond the dodgeball story cited at the beginning of this article. The Wyndham school district was just reacting possibly to one parental complaint. Dodgeball only gave those who were bullies a chance to act out. Discipline the bully then and let the rest of the kids have fun.