Outdoor recreation and sports have a significant place in the history of American learning and American thought. Pioneers on land and sea were not only engaged in essential work but also in utilizing skills—hiking, hunting, sailing, canoeing, map and compass use—that we now associate with leisure activities. The rise of interest in team and individual sports, per se, coincides with eras of settlement and the growth of working and middle classes with the time, inclination, and disposable income to enjoy rooting for a home team or playing a game of golf.
Sports and games involve the use of many cognitive skills, from the complex geometry of virtually all ball games to the quick thinking and decision-making required to set up an effective play. Listening and negotiation skills are the most important part of developing the rules and stipulations for even the most informal or spontaneous games. Team sports are based on communication, while success in individual sports stems at least in part from knowing one’s own strengths and capabilities.
Inasmuch as sports are also important expressions of culture, the young person who chooses to explore the hinterlands of sport will also make interesting discoveries about the nature of the human experience. In the patterns of popularity of one sport or another may be found the faint traces of human history—cricket in the former British empire, for example—as well as unexpected evidence of socioeconomic differences.
In the woods and on the water the youngster will learn, long with self-reliance, about the interaction of man with nature as well as, perhaps, a bit more about nature itself. And in exploring all these areas he or she will enact old Roman dictum, mens sana in corpore sano—a sound mind in a healthy body—an ideal motto for a balanced life.
IDEA #6. Try a new sport in each of these areas: team, individual, land, water.
Sports and games come in all sizes and degrees of complexity, from those requiring little more than a ball and some play space to those involving thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Whether the new activity is team handball or horseback riding, the point here is not only to acquire a few new skills but also to explore the breadth of this field of human endeavor.
Along the way, there are lessons to be learned—rules, procedures, stances, commands—that will inspire the thinking child to wonder at their origin as well as to find new areas in which these lessons can be applied. Until one tries archery, for example, one may never know which is one’s sighting eye, but that knowledge may also be useful in other arenas from painting to music. Handling a horse or a sailboat will make Westerns or sea stories all the more real, while the strategies of water polo may be of surprising utility in basketball (and vice versa). Tossing a javelin will involve any number of principles of physics and the mathematics of trajectories.
Any library will have reference material relating to sports and games, and it is likely that the youngster already has some ideas about things he or she would like to try. Finding ways to play a new team sport may be a bit more difficult, but perhaps a few friends could be enlisted to play a scaled-down version—think of the various ways in which baseball can become a two-person sport (Three Flies, Running Bases) and use the imagination.
Some sports or activities—especially those that might involve animals, the water, heights, projectiles, or vehicles—will need some thought given to matters of safety and even supervision. Enlisting an expert as mentor or coach would be a very good idea.