Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Playing Ball

One morning the other week I had myself an opportunity to watch children at play.
Proceedings started early, before the start of a school day. A young child was playing hand tennis, for lack of a better word, with his mother and a bouncy plastic ball. The two were enjoying themselves in a relaxed manner, trying to maintain continuous play as the ball moved from one to the other.
After several such minutes a group of other kids approached, and they wanted their go. The mother retired to let them take their turn. Immediately, and without saying a word, the goal of the game changed: instead of keeping things running, the goal turned into smashing the ball as hard as possible and as quickly as possible so as to prevent the other player from hitting it. Instead of a variation of catch, the kids were now playing something closer to real tennis.

I could not avoid reminiscing about my own time at the playground. Back at those days, the days before we had much in the way of the modern day alternatives – computers and TV – the only real alternative to outdoor play was book reading. Which meant that I read a lot and played a lot.
Perhaps due to that lack of alternatives, ball games were managed through some unwritten contract that dictated, by force of mutual benefit, that the main objective of the game is to keep on playing. Games were thus quite open and inclusive of those who did not handle a ball as well as others. More interestingly, given my contemporary observations, the competitive edge of the game was generally absent. Sure, we kept scores and all, but it wasn’t about winning; when the main objective is to keep on playing one has to ensure the other players receive constant motivation to play.
I do wonder, though, whether this difference in play style is solely a result of modern times’ excessive stimulation and overabundance of entertainment alternatives. Could it also be a cultural thing, too?
I cannot claim to have much in the way of evidence on this matter. However, I do wonder – aloud – whether that essence of what being Australian is all about has its say here. Sports is a major part of Australian culture, and right beside it are competitiveness and winner-ism. If one grows up to learn that the main goal is not to win or beat your opponent but rather to thrash them, then by default thrashing becomes the core objective of gameplay. To use a pub, it is the name of the game.
It would be interesting to observe contemporary kids in less sports obsessive countries as they play with a ball. For now, though, I will note the rather sad nature of modern gameplay between Australian males of primary school age and hold it against Aussie culture.

Image by Pascal, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

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