The normal young adolescent is intensely interested in all games or game-like occupations which demand skill, physical endurance, or courage. Every pastime must be a test, a trial.
He is tremendously serious about it all. The game must be contested to the bitter end in accordance with the letter of the law; no quarter is given or asked. This is equally applicable to an indoor game such as chess as to an outdoor such as foot- ball or tennis. The shame of being beaten by a younger or less experienced opponent is a very real one indeed.
He is so serious about it that he will spend hours practising or training; will regard as heroes skilful exponents of a game; will memorize immense lists of facts about it; will teach anyone in order to find an opponent.
Athletic games and feats come easily first in popularity, because they supply an abundant outlet for physical energy, and make calls upon skill, endurance and courage; generally speaking, the greater the demand the more popular the game. It will be noticed that a long walk or a straightforward swim will not interest greatly; the element of contest has to be introduced.
With children averse to athletics, or hindered from partaking by physical defect, there is a natural tendency to seek to excel in some form of handicraft which involves muscular energy, e.g. carpentry, metalwork.
The general ability and character of children at this age can be very accurately gauged by the indoor games they play, provided there is sufficient choice, and the way in which they play them. A clever child will learn numbers of games demanding skill and concentration – chess, draughts, elaborate card games, billiards – and will analyse the moves and the strokes with unceasing care. The child of moderate ability will condemn a game that is beyond his grasp. The dull child will continue to play the simpler games of childhood.
Character is shown here more clearly because in athletic.3 there is nearly always some form of corporate control or re-straint – the captain, the team; the influence of school is almost invariably present. But in the more individual, more sociable, homelike atmosphere of indoor games, this traditional restraint is cast off, and we get the natural cupidity, acquisitiveness, dishonest temper, irritability, or good humour, unselfishness, courtesy, and keenness.