On Saturday, our 9-year-old son had his first basketball game as part of a recreational league he is trying for the first time. This kid does not have a ton of natural ability when it comes to sports. But what he lacks in speed or agility, he makes up for in determination and love for the game. He loves to play sports and will find a way to practice, whether it’s inside, outside, in the snow, the freezing cold or in the garage.

We weren’t terribly surprised or even disappointed when the game began and we realized that after only two practices, this group of seven boys didn’t even know the rules of basketball, let alone have the skill to dribble or make a basket. This seems to be our history with sports.

Whether it’s baseball, soccer or basketball, our son tends to get drafted onto the one team that has only one or two kids with a whole lot of ability for the game. And that’s OK. After several seasons of being on totally losing teams, I can say it’s been a great experience to focus on learning a game and not worrying about winning.

But what was not OK was what we saw unfold at our first basketball game of the season and the first basketball game of any child in our family. Two of our nine players quit before the season even began. After the first four minutes of the game, three more boys decided they needed to take a time out.

Two of these boys sat on the bench and would not be convinced to go back into the game no matter what. One complained after four minutes of game time that he was done. He was too tired and would not be able to play one more minute. From outside appearances, all of the boys seemed physically fit and capable of playing longer than four minutes. But they refused to go back in.

That gave our son and several others another 56 minutes to pull the weight of the boys who sat down drinking water, refusing to be budged. The sweaty boys who played the entire game would not be given the luxury of sitting out for a few minutes because we would not have had enough players to continue the game. The other team had nine active players who took turns in the game.

I could hear one of the boy’s moms yelling at her child from behind to get back in the game. He ignored her, and she stayed in her seat chatting with her friends.

After a few quarters of being destroyed by the other team, one of the dads got up and stormed out of the gym. He announced, “I’m not going to watch this!” apparently mad at the coaches, which included my husband who was simply volunteering to help out because the real coach was away on a business trip. The dad didn’t bother to say anything to his son, who sat on the bench, refusing to even participate in the game.

So, I don’t know any of these kids, their medical conditions, their family history or anything about them. I don’t know if they have legitimate reasons to sign up for basketball and then refuse to play. I don’t know their families, and I realize that I am jumping to conclusions, but here goes anyway.

Earlier that morning, when the boys showed up for their team photo, every single one of them, except for our son and one other boy, stood in line, playing either a DS, a PSP or an iPod. When one of the boy’s moms told him to put down his electronic gaming device to actually participate in the team photo, he refused to listen and chose to take it with him into the gym.

I don’t have any facts to support the cause and effect of what we saw that morning and what we saw that afternoon during the game. But regardless, I’m going to go on my soapbox.

Here’s the thing.

What are we doing to our kids by allowing them to do what they want, behave the way they want and give them whatever is necessary to keep them entertained at all times?

Why can’t a group of 9-year-old boys stand in a line for 30 minutes without being entertained by a portable gaming device? What is wrong with putting children in a position where they are required to interact with those around them?

OK. Our kids watch TV, they watch movies, they play the Wii and they play the X-Box. They do a lot of things other kids do. But they do not have unlimited access to stare at various types of screens, small and large at any moment they have free time.

Between doing home school and helping with chores and going to other activities, they have a pretty busy day. But when they can, they love to play. And what I mean by “play” is actually interact with the world around them. PLAY.

As long as they can tolerate being outside in a snowsuit, they are outside playing as much as possible every day. They play outside on the hottest days of the year. They are active. They run and play tag and they find ways to entertain themselves.

I love it when they tell me they are bored. Does that mean I give them an electronic device to pass the time? No!

Boredom brings out their creativity. It forces them to figure out what to do with themselves. Whether they are alone or with friends, their minds are able to find something to do. Draw something. Paint something. Make up a game. Imagine. Create. Read a book. Run. Jump. Move!

I’m not judging these boys because they didn’t know how to dribble or they didn’t understand the rules of basketball. That will come with practice. But it won’t come from sitting on the bench, refusing to even try.

Maybe they need more minutes of boredom in their lives to give them time to work on it.

I know our son is excited for the opportunity he had to handle the ball nearly the entire game on Saturday. He’s not naturally fast, agile or a great shot. The funny thing is, he has had significant problems with his knees since he was very young and we know that after an hour of basketball, he will be popping Motrin and sleeping with a heating pad to give him relief.

But he is determined. He knows what to do. He doesn’t need his mom to yell at him to get up off the bench. He wants to PLAY.


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