Human targets

By Mark Trapp
web posted December 11, 2000

The Washington Times reported last week that school districts in several Maryland counties are considering banning "dodge ball." Dodge ball is a game in which children throw big rubber balls at each other in an attempt to eliminate players on the opposing team by hitting them with the ball. What, you ask, is so bad about this game, a favorite of children for decades? According to the Cecil County school board, "activities requiring human targets" are not appropriate for physical education.

The school board is going to vote soon on whether to ban dodge ball. Don't they realize that football also requires a "human target?" So do baseball, basketball, boxing, wrestling, and many other sports. I'm sure those are next up for elimination. The director of education services stated that, "We don't want any kind of game that is exclusionary. We don't want anything that keeps you out and waiting." In other words, because some people get hit in dodge ball and must then sit out, the whole game must be scrapped. How about baseball? Are these people going to change the rules so that nobody makes an out and must sit in the dugout? Will everybody bat at once, so no one is kept "out and waiting?"

Good grief. Has this country's educational system become so screwed up that kids can no longer play dodge ball because it encourages "acts of aggression?" Apparently it has. Instead of teaching this country's children to learn competition and develop character through sports, our schools are more intent on promoting self-esteem. Remember several years ago, when the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association announced that all of its teams would not keep score in their soccer tournaments? They also instituted a policy that if any child got a trophy, every child also had to receive a trophy. The leader of this group, Dean Conway, called the idea of not keeping score a "non-results-oriented initiative." They felt that their sports programs had become too competitive, and having winners and losers only served to make the losers feel bad.

Folks, it just doesn't get much more stupid than that. How did Dean Conway ever get his job? Did he have to compete with other applicants? Didn't he realize that someone who didn't get the same job might feel bad? What about the applicants who were turned down for his prestigious position? Didn't he understand that if he got to lead such a wonderful organization, everybody should have been allowed to do so? How did he justify the results-oriented approach to his selection as head honcho of the MYSA?

In my mind, kids should be encouraged to vent some aggression once in a while in a good, clean game of dodge ball, soccer or anything else. Not only that, they should be allowed to keep score in order to determine who won or lost. And if the losers feel bad, they should - they lost. However, the idea that some poor kid's self-esteem is going to suffer because his team lost a soccer game to another group of six-year olds is laughable. Kids realize that you win some, you lose some. Life goes on.

When I was in second grade, my teacher Ms. Anderson, always allowed us to play kick ball at recess. She would even be the pitcher. I remember many times when my team would be winning by a wide margin, and the other team would start to complain to Ms. Anderson. She would end up telling them that they could choose one player from the other team to even things out. It seemed like I was always chosen to finish the game on the losing team. Thus, I lost all the time. But did my self-esteem suffer? No - in fact, the few times that we came back and actually won the game were some of my best memories of second grade.

A group called the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has inducted dodge ball, along with "Duck, duck, goose" and kick ball into its "Physical Education Hall of Shame." The group for discouraging these games gives several reasons. For example, dodge ball is too aggressive, duck, duck, goose excludes too many children (because some of them aren't picked as often as others), and kick ball puts batters on display for possible embarrassment, excludes girls, and stronger throwers can toss the ball too hard at weaker classmates. I wonder how many of the people in charge at the NASPE were the "weaker classmates" when they were children? This organization is the ultimate Revenge of the Nerds - it's a bunch of adults who couldn't compete as kids. Apparently, they still can't compete; or else they would have real jobs that actually offered a contribution to society, instead of endeavoring to eliminate competition and create a nation of wimps.

These people who seek to eliminate competition from children's sports are doing a disservice to the children they are supposed to be helping. One day, these kids will grow up and find out that in the real world, people keep score. People expect results. Not only that, but not everyone gets a trophy - some people make more money than others. Doctors make more than street bums, in spite of the fact that this makes the bums feel bad. I wonder if the NASPE pays every employee the same amount, so as not to damage the "weaker employees" self-esteem?

If children are never allowed to fail, they will never succeed. If children are told that they can't keep score in a soccer game because it might make the losers feel bad, how can we justify grading their homework? Won't the kids who don't do as well feel bad? Won't these grades cause the less intelligent kids to feel embarrassed?

Although the leader of the soccer group called his scheme "non-results-oriented initiative," I've got a better name. It is a name that sums up all of these programs - whether they seek to stop aggressive dodge ball, competitive soccer, or the embarrassment and shame of losing a game of kick ball. It perfectly describes the idea that competitive sports are an evil that must be eradicated, lest our children's self-esteem suffer because they actually lost a game of youth soccer. It is also an apt description for the non-competitive, non-score-keeping, non-aggressive, non-winning, non-losing, high-self-esteem kids our schools are churning out. We can simply call these programs "No Balls." Don't worry - these "no balls" kids will still have bright futures ahead of them, in spite of the fact that they will not be prepared in any way to compete in our job markets. They will all have jobs waiting for them at places like the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association and the Cecil County school board.

Mark Trapp is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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