To sport or not to sport?


The Steiner schools think sport is for exercise, health, agilty and enjoyment and competitiveness isn’t encouraged except against one’s self. Montessori schools de-emphasise competitiveness and encourage cooperation. Why?

There is a certain pleasure in having rules as defined by someone else governing your game, an abdication of responsibility and it’s easy. For me this pleasure lasts until I can see a way of making the game better… better for me is more running about, more thought, no pushing or waving arms in my face at all, less concern about scoring. I just do not care about the score or who wins. I do set my own personal goals. For example I like ‘bats down’ vs cricket, and even better bats down wearing gum boots, fun and supportive, less of the ugliness. I’m ‘better’ with board games. So far it appears Helena feels similar. We were watching a game of soccer and she was making a comment about everyone flocking around the one ball (I smiled at her poetical language) and she instantly invented a better game, soccer with two balls (I’d play) – more getting a kick, more things to look at, too fast to score.. of course then she thought maybe there should be as many balls as players which I suspect is probably pushing it. Helena has joined in a soccer game/kick about and she lasted quite a few minutes until she got restless and started lying on the ball, which was ok as that became the game, well until she wouldn’t get up under the new rules and the others were over it. Mainly she was trying to get the others to play a different game in a very non constructive way. Helena is happier when games aren’t scored and she likes everyone to have an opportunity to win, winning should be fair. Mostly Helena is a good looser but not where she feels an injustice has occured, sometimes she can recognise other people’s feelings of injustice. She feels for the loser. These are good skills. Being competitive and getting one’s self worth from winning is an easier path perhaps but getting one’s self worth from beating others is surely bad for you and dependent on variables outside your control.

Sport is not necessary. I don’t play sport however I incorporate fitness into my life. I bike and walk places rather than drive, I have non sedentary lifestyle, gardening… I leave cleaning until the last moment so it’s done at speed and makes me sweat.

I try to find us cooperative games to play. There is no point in a two person game when the players are somewhat mismatched by age, logic etc. We also tend to choose games that are fun in the doing, like Dixit where the actual fun bit is coming up with the words for the picture, hearing other peoples ideas and in knowing/getting to know the other people. We don’t score this game and play until all the cards are finished.

So here is a transcript of Helena and K playing a game she invented the night before. It is a marble game (try remembering this). I started recording part the way in… and it makes little sense to me but it did to them and was Important. One child is on a lounge chair, one is on the floor, and they have piles of marbles and rocks.

  • K: …for the shield around him, I mean a force field cause he’s got something that takes..
  • H: All of mine have all got a sh..and you can have a shield car and mine is being able to have a force field.
  • K: Mine has as well, it comes out of the head and goes like this and then he gets jet star things.
  • H: Is that just one of yours?
  • K: yeah
  • H: cause that’s all mine, you can choose one power for all of those.
  • K: and from the back of the force field he zooms away on a jet pack and then
  • H: I don’t need to know all their powers you can just tell me if I’m breaking their power.
  • K: No because you told me all your ones.
  • H: Well you didn’t ask to say all your two balls but you didn’t want to listen to them. Mmmmm
  • K: This guy is going to smash through anything…
  • H: (singing) mmm mm m (shouting) Our games starting..
  • K: Yeah well, I’m just talking and just doing that so I’ll stop talking
  • H: Well it’s starting anyway, my guys coming
  • K: Well I’m not ready I’m still telling the…
  • H: Well, well I’m not going to listen
  • K: Well then I’m not listening to your guys then. I wasn’t even listening
  • H: I don’t mind, I was just saying we just say if we’re breaking their power..
  • K: ..just saying what their powers are but then you don’t know strong they are
  • H: OK 3 2 1 we’re off on our game… power (fighting noises)
  • K: I wasn’t ready
  • H: Yes you were
  • K: No I wasn’t
  • H: Goodie and if they all come across here we’ve got more helpers
  • K: Hey.. stop doing that. This guys too strong. I’ll gonna get astro boy. Hey give astro boy back.
  • H: they
  • K: varooom
  • H: Well Astro boy, Astro boy has to come over here too because they are meant to drag all the kids, so no they are going to be, and a good thing trying
  • K: yeah but he flew away
  • H: to… if you want all your fighters back you
  • K: Ssss (flying noises?)
  • H: have to give your jewel to me
  • K: vroom
  • H: well not to keep just for the rest of the game
  • K: well this guy escaped because he flew away. He can fly.
  • H: well one of my guy, this guys power is flying. I changed my mind.
  • K: pheee (flying noises)
  • H: and it’s pulling and this guy, and all my big guys can fly so they’re all coming up
  • K: pheeew (ing noises). Can’t get me (more flying noises) He’s got blue power
  • H: I think that’s over, don’t, we can’t get in but we can but now it’s time. Ok the game is done and now we need to check something. I’ve got all these marbles…
  • K: woooo (noises)
  • H: you’ve only got one marble
  • K: yeah and, but he’s the powerfullest of everyone.

Remember this is a marble game.. it goes on like this until

  • H: (shouting) you can’t choose that about my game that I invented. (quietly) I’m never going to play a game with you again.
  • K: Well you will and I’m not playing with you again.

They storm off to different spots… for 5 minutes, maybe 10, then Helena appears “Where’s K?” And she goes outside calling to find her friend. “Would you like to play a game with my ball? I don’t mind if you play with me”. So they go off and play some other game (not with a ball, that was just an opening gambit as she knows K likes them and they’d had a successful self defined game before)…. they decide new rules etc and play happily.

This is the why of emphasising non competitive – what the kids learn. So what are the kids learning in this ‘game’ that they can’t in traditional marbles with it’s officially recognised rules with it’s Judges/referees? Lots, after all they had to make the rules, attempt to work from the same set of rules, endless negotiations, cooperation, they had to use all the information they knew about each other, imagination rules, creativity, listening, how to communicate what you want and mean, how to compromise, to be able recognise when it’s all over, and how to make up when it all goes to custard. There is equity in a game where everyone decides the rules and gets to play. It’s a whole mental and physical sport and they are skills that we want when we work with others as adults – communication, negotiation, creativity, innovation, and compromise. Sometimes the game is more the words than any actions. We live in a neoliberal world and it will stay that way if all we teach kids is focused on external rules and competition. It takes no effort to teach competitiveness “lets see who gets to the car first” etc but it takes a lot effort to get everyone on board working together but it’s certainly how I’d like the world to work – truly democratic.

I still struggle. I make in-flexible rules, don’t communicate my agenda… it’s a work in progress, so much to unlearn.

Alfie Kohen:

One after another, researchers across the country have concluded that children do not learn better when education is transformed into a competitive struggle. Why? First, competition often makes kids anxious and that interferes with concentration. Second, competition doesn’t permit them to share their talents and resources as cooperation does, so they can’t learn from one another. Finally, trying to Number One distracts them from what they’re supposed to be learning. It may seem paradoxical, but when a student concentrates on the reward (an A or a gold star or trophy), she becomes less interested in what she’s doing. The result: Performance declines.

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