Will You be Chosen for the Team?
When I was a kid growing up in the U.S. Midwest, baseball and American football were very popular after school sports among my friends and schoolmates. Basketball was a close third.
In primary school days, pick-up games of baseball and football were popular after school and on weekends. We were fortunate to have enough public parks nearby, available for anyone at no cost and without advance booking, accessible either on foot or by bicycle.
These were “pick-up” games, spontaneously organized by kids, without adult supervision, referees, etc. There were also formal programs like Little League baseball and school-organized sports teams, but that’s not what I am talking about here.
A new style of baseball, called “whiffle ball” was introduced when I was a kid. It involved plastic balls and bats, which greatly reduced the risk of breaking a neighbor’s window, thus expanding the range of places where baseball games could be played, to include backyards and driveways.
The participants in these games were local neighborhood kids and schoolmates. The group was somewhat fluid. Some guys — and it was a “guy” thing in those days — played more often than others; but there was room for a wide range of skill levels.
Prior to secondary school, I don’t recall having that much homework, and no one I knew was getting after-school tutoring or taking after-school lessons in music, ballet or other pursuits. This was, after all, the suburbs. In wealthier downtown neighborhoods, like parts of Manhattan, it would have been a different story.
In other words, there were few scheduling issues getting in the way of childhood pursuits such as after school sports, so sports assumed a fairly large role in the play time agenda.
Since these were not fixed, organized teams based on school or neighborhood affiliations, the make-up of opposing teams was subject to discussion and decision each time.
The usual process of picking sides was to first nominate two ”team captains” and then let the both captains take turns choosing the members they wanted. Team captains were obviously respected as well as considered adept at the particular sport we were playing that day.
During the selection process there was lively banter, with some of the waiting candidates lobbying the captains: “Pick me, I wanna be on your team…” and so on. The first ones to be picked were fortunate; the last ones not so.
Once the selection was complete, the game would begin. Any disagreements about rule infractions or other disputes had to be settled among the players, since there was no adult supervision. There were arguments sometimes, but I don’t recall any very heated ones.
Thinking back on those days gives rise to two reflections.
The first relates to the tremendous demographic and social change which has taken place in my home town and most other parts of America in the past 50 years.
My home town is a suburb of Chicago, and was then predominantly white and middle class.
In primary school, the entire student body lived in that town and was white, and included a handful of recent immigrants from Europe whose English was not yet fluent. Our teachers were mostly Catholic nuns, and in hindsight I’m not sure how many of them had college degrees.
My secondary school, located in the same town, had a student body of roughly 1500. We had a small handful of blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans, but the vast majority were white. A fairly significant number of students lived in “the city” and commuted up to an hour by school bus. As a result, the student body was slightly more diverse socio-economically than that of my primary school. Compared to primary school, academics were much more demanding and competitive, as were extracurricular activities, including sports.
Today the demographics of the town and both schools is far more diverse racially and ethnically, and averages more in the upper middle class bracket. There are no nuns teaching in the primary school. Academic qualifications are much higher for teachers today. My high school, which was an all boys school, has been co-educational for quite a few years.
I’m told by friends who stayed on in my home town and raised families there, that the type of spontaneous self-organized after-school sports which we enjoyed is basically a thing of the past.
Kids today have less time available for free activities after school due to increased homework and more formally organized after-school activities. Parents also tend to worry more about their kids’ safety than in the “good old days,” so the kind of pick-up games we used to play are often considered off-limits.
So that first reflection is more or less a local one.
The second reflection I would share has to do with teamwork, and how we learn about it; and this is more of a global one.
Unlike many American schools today, teachers in my day rarely gave school assignments to teams of students. So after school sports was a relatively important place to learn about teamwork, because that really didn’t happen in the classroom.
In hindsight, I learned a few things about teamwork from this experience, which I am grateful for.
You don’t have to be the best at something to be picked for a team. You need determination and the desire to win; to try your best against whatever odds you’re up against. You need to be accountable for your mistakes; and at the same time, willing to risk making mistakes. You need to be able to pick yourself up after getting knocked down. Obviously, you also need to balance your own interests with that of the team, no matter how talented you think you are.
Demographic and social change is continuous.
Even against the backdrop of dramatic social change, we somehow need to learn how to be picked for, and to function effectively, within a team.
Parents and teachers should bear in mind that although test results and grades are important, some lessons — like learning how to work in teams — are not measured in school exams. Yet they are crucial to success in life and careers.
As the world continues to shrink, becoming ever more globalized and closely interconnected on a real time basis, teamwork-related skills and qualities become even more crucial.
Last time I looked, there was no SAT, AP or GMAT exam for teamwork. Maybe there oughta be.
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