Friday, December 22, 2006


Recreational sports

In my town, there's a recreational volleyball group that's run by the town's Recreation Division. It's not a “league”; you don't have to sign up as part of a team, there's no tournament, there's no trophy. You sign up as an individual, and you go to the designated school gym on volleyball nights. There's “co-ed volleyball” night and “advanced co-ed volleyball” night. I go for the latter; some of the people I play with go to both. The people who show up on any given night divide into teams semi-randomly, and play.

I like that mechanism. When I say the teams are picked “semi-randomly”, I mean that we know the different skill levels of the people who come, and we try to distribute that approximately evenly. At “advanced” night, we play each game to win, but once one game is over we remember the result only long enough to have the losing team serve first in the next game. Then it's forgotten. No one worries about how many games each team has won. There's no “season record”.

I had a good time at it this week, as I always do. We played some competetive games, got some exercise, and had fun. Lots of mistakes were made. Some people made the same mistakes that they make over and over again. Sometimes I shake my head about it, and wonder why we see the same mistakes repeatedly, but others probably shake their heads about my mistakes too. The point is that it's recreational, and we do our best, and we have a good time. We don't yell at each other, we don't get into fights, no one gets suspended. Agnes brings brownies sometimes, for after the games.

We have no referees; we call our own lines and fouls. In the advanced group, we try to be fairly strict about it, but we never have arguments. If there's a disagreement, we just good-naturedly do a replay; it's not worth fighting about. We'll jokingly say that the result of the replay tells us what really happened. “It must have been ‘out’ after all,” we'll say.

And I remember recreational sports groups where that wasn't the case. We've all seen or heard of little league baseball or soccer groups, where the parents (usually, not the kids) were too, too serious about it, where the urge to “win” took over, above the desire to have fun.

I used to play in a softball league at work, and one time I remember being on the sidelines as our team was in the field. Someone missed a catch, overthrew the ball, or some such, and one of my teammates who was on the sidelines with me started yelling at those in the field. “Damn it!”, he said, “You look like a bunch of amateurs out there!” Uh, but we are a bunch of amateurs, I reminded him.

We shouldn't forget that. It's all the most fun if we take it just seriously enough, but not too much.


Maggie said...

I've thought about this a lot. My daughters both played in the "fun" soccer league in town. I like soccer because it's great exercise, but it really wasn't the thing for my older daughter. She didn't really get the game and she wasn't very good.

She played once in first grade, and tried again in second grade. In the "fun" league, every child is supposed to get the same game time. Her coach, a guy who thinks his daughter is a star, stopped playing my daughter because she wasn't very good.

I didn't make an issue out of it. She wasn't enjoying it and he wasn't playing her, so it wasn't a matter of "letting down the team," and I let her quit.

But, living in this world of McDonald's, video games, and skyrocketting childhood obesity, I'm angry that there isn't a better way for children to get involved in sports non-competitively, find what they like to do, and stick with it for life.

I'm not a competitive person. I like to run, and I've even run in some races, but I'm slow and I do it for the love of running and because I need to do something to stay healthy.

I thought about trying to start some kind of town "pick up" game, just a regular Sunday thing very much like your volleyball league, and just playing whatever worked for the weather. We have a big field with a baseball diamond and basketball courts right at the top of my street. It seems like the perfect place for organized disorganization.

Maybe I'll think about that again. If I could find a group of people like your volleyball group, that would be great. The trick is to factor out the competitive types. Any tips?

Barry Leiba said...

Tips? I'm not sure. I'm lucky, here, in that we have the "advanced" group that's mildly competitive and the other group that isn't competitive at all, so one can take one's pick — and one can go find a team in the Peekskill league if one wants more competition than that.

I guess the suggestion I would have is to check with your town's recreation department — most towns have one — and offer to organize something like this. Running it isn't much work. The town would publicize it, and obtain the gym (so you might have to do the legwork to find a school gym to play in). You'd have to get a net and volleyballs, which you'd convince the town to pay for. And then it's just a matter of getting 15 or 20 people to sign up to play, for a nominal fee that covers the town's expenses for it (here it's $25 per person). The town should already have the necessary insurance.

I don't know... as with most things, I think it's probably more work than it sounds like it should be. But once you get it going it should settle into being a low-maintenance thing that starts each fall and runs through spring.