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.

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.