Thursday, March 4, 2004

Free Kick on Zeno's Field, or It Doesn't Matter Who's Tending Goal

[Another soundtrack audio-blaring: O Brother, Where Art Thou?]

It occurs to me as I set out to key this entry that some things don't belong here at EWM, some things should be off the edge of this weblog in a less public space.  How will I know when I've crossed the line--fumbled in poor taste by revealing something inappropriate?  Dunno.  Dunno.  I'll listen for the uncomfortable silence then.

About work: another busy week.  Eighth of eight in spring I online courses, which means a heaping inflow of student writing from the accelerated term is jamming my email box--but like coldstiff milkshakes to a small straw, this too shall pass.  Ease will be restored.  Next week is spring break.  

I've been talking about sports during the day; it's one of my jobs to keep two fingers on the pulse.  Latest:  there's talk of a formal violation of the NAIA Coaches Code.  Specifically this:

I will ever keep before the students under my direction the high ideals, honesty, sincerity, and integrity which have made our nation great. I will not encourage, or ever tolerate, any form of trickery or evasion of rules in order to gain an advantage over an opponent.

Broken.  Rules are rules!  I've been reading the coaches code, smiling quietly to myself at their morph and moralizing, but taking very seriously that someone can formally allege a breach of this code.  I shouldn't disclose more details yet, but I can say that I find the language in the code surprising.  Why?  Well, coaching is premised on gaining an advantage over an opponent.  I've witnessed plenty of instances of coaches encouraging the "evasion of rules in order to gain an advantage over an opponent."  This happens every time a coach argues with a referee about a call, and since it's so purely interpretive, so purely perceptual, it's a system rife with manipulations and stunts. And the part about "made our nation great"?  Did I mention that the NAIA includes a few Canadian institutions?  Wild, indeed.

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Stampede, the seventh grade basketball club I coach, is near its dissolution.  The season has tapered to a close for the Blue Team; the Green Team has two games left.  Around here, the kids join their school teams in eighth grade, so my work is almost complete.  I've been booking my winters solid with coaching this group for the last four years; it's a relief that it's coming to an end. I've grown to disdain the spectacle and pressure asserted on the whole scene.  Club basketball is cut-throat.  I don't want to preach on this issue, but I keep coming back to a simple perspective about learning and development:  free play.  In other words, the sporting arena for these kids has been pressurized, conditioned into an ultra-formal site where ritual, uniformity and spectacle squelch fun and accidental passions for playing. Makes me think of spoilation and loss in Percian terms.  IMHO, twelve-year-old kids who don't have their bodies yet (do we ever?!) should not be cut from a sport. Period.

My boss, C., and I had a chat the other day about the erosion of sports programs in public school systems.  Around here, many high school students are choosing to compete for clubs outside the school system.  The clubs, it turns out, aren't confined by state high school athletic associations.  They're freer to play more contests year round, and many parents see it as a ticket to a more promising athletic future.  In Johnson County, Kan., where he lives, he's watched soccer fields spring up en masse.  He talked about the more than two thousand soccer players whose families choke roadways carpooling to the fields each weekend.  The traffic has been picking up for the twelve years he's lived near the fields.  Olathe and Overland Park are regionally known for premier soccer clubs.  But the scale--funding, transportation, paid coaches, etc.--seems to instill a sense of entitlement in athletes at a younger age.  Does it really elevate the level of play? To what end? Are well-funded, private, suburban sports clubs turning out high quality athletes?  Anyway, that was the premise our talk.  C., a former NBAer who's been coaching for 25 years, suggested we'll see more and more public schools turning to pay-to-play arrangements (which exploit economic gaps and proliferate spirits of entitlement) or, worse(?), dropping sports programs altogether.    

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 4, 2004 7:31 PM to Sport
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