WE cannot attempt to assess the value of athletics to boys and girls unless we know exactly what we are to understand by the three words athletics, boy and girl, each of which covers a very wide field of meaning, and so may conceal complications not obvious until we search behind the general meaning of the words.
It is absolutely necessary to have a perfectly clear and detailed understanding of them if we are to examine this most important subject at all thoroughly. Too much of what is written about the value of games to boys and girls is vague and empty, because, for example, no mention is made of the age of the children concerned. If we only remember that the word boy is used by parents of their children right through life – the boy in question may be five minutes old, five years, or fifty! – we shall at once see the necessity for this caution. Developing Character
The term athletics is often used in a restricted sense to mean only contests in running, jumping and so on, but here we shall use it in a very much wider sense to mean all organized athletic games, sports and exercises in which boys and girls take part. A fine definition has been given by Dr. Cyril Norwood, headmaster of Harrow: That which not only produces, and promotes bodily fitness, but also through the training of the body develops the right type of character.
We would draw particular attention to the second part of this quoted definition, because if athletics trained only the body, and did not affect the mind and the character, they would not be worth any- thing like the attention re pay to them in our schools and in our own lives. In fact they cannot help having a very powerful influence on miud and character, for good or for evil. The Value of Rules
BEFORE wo summarize the main – athletic activities in which British boys and girls take part, we would add another definition. The word play has an enormous variety of meanings; in one of these it is used loosely as a synonym for games, sports, recrea-tion, but we must adopt here a special meaning which psychologists give it to distinguish it from athletics, because man out of his play has organized his athletics, has devised innumerable athletic games and pastimes, all governed by rules, and those rules, and the ways in which they are administered and obeyed, constitute no small part of the value of athletics. Necessary to Growth
Play is a spontaneous activity. It is necessary to growth and development. All young animals play; everyone of us has seen a kitten with a ball of wool, two puppies pretending to fight, lambs frisking and gambolling in the fields. For what reasons? Play is necessary to growth. We need not inquire closely why, as psychologists are still disputing the fundamental reasons. But anyone who has watched children or young animals at play will see that muscles are being exercised, body movements that will be necessary later in work are being practised, the mind and body are learning to act together, easily, readily, and harmoniously. It is plain, too, that play is an outward expression of a state of mind.
And of bodily well-being. A happy, healthy child will play the livelong day; an unhappy or sick child ceases to play.
All children, like other young animals, play; must play if they are to grow and develop naturally. Just whore with them – since they are human, i.e.. thinking beings – pure play ends and organized games and sports begin, it is often impossible to say. Lets play trains, says the four-year-old, and immediately begins to make rules for the game. But here wo are chiefly concerned with the more highly organized games and athletic activities; and these we will now arrange roughly under four headings. Organized as Contests
Notice in passing that man has organized practically all his athletic activities as con-tests; this is a profoundly important point. (I) Team Games and Contests: The most familiar in Great Britain are Rugby and Association Football, Cricket, and Hockey, our national games. To these we may add Nctball, now so popular in girls schools, and Lacrosse; Baseball, or its rough-and-ready English form, Rounders; Rowing in a team. (ii) Semi-Team, Semi-Individual Games and Contests: Lawn Tennis, Badminton, Golf, Rackets, Squash, Croquet, Relay Racing. (iii) Individual Games and Contests: Running, Jumping, Throwing or Hurling (cricket ball, weight, javelin), Swimming, Boxing, Wrestling, Fencing. (iv) Non-Contest activities: Walking, Hiking, Horse-riding, Physical Training, Gymnastics, Dancing, Eurhythmies.
Under this heading we may place also widely popular groups of activities, mainly athletic in character, Camping, Scouting and Guiding, and Cadet Corps and O.T.C. Work in boys schools.
Notice that all activities in Group II, most in Group III, even some in Group IV, can be, and frequently are, organized as team contests. The distinction we have tried to make in Groups I – III is according to the dominanca of the team or the individual as the important unit. Athletics According to Age
Just as wo have made sub-divisions under the main heading Athletics, so we must under the headings Boy, and Girl. A fairly safe and quite necessary division is according to age; it is obvious that what is good in the way of athletics for the five-year-old, is neither bound to be, nor likely to be, equally good for the fifteen-year-old.I. Early childhood (3 to 7 years). ii. Later childhood (7 to 12 years).
Iii. Early youth (12 to 16 yoars). iv. Later youth (16 to IS years).
Children who Dislike Athletics
It is much more difficult to make other classifications, except, of course, in the cases of those unfortunate children who by reason of some pronounced physical defect or mental deficiency are debarred from ordinary games and sports. But wo are bound to consider those children who have a dislike of athletics, for it is doubtful if they ever gain great benefit from them, while certainly they suffer much in their attempts to join in, and particularly from misguided attempts to compel them to do so. Parents and teachers should always remember that athletics, in so far as they are organized, are artificial activities, so that the boy or girl who prefers to wander through country lanes looking at flowers or birds to playing cricket or tennis is not queer, but only rather more natural than the rest of us.
Fortunately for the happiness of mankind in general, and of schools and other organizations for the young in particular, most boys and girls, like most men and women, are average or normal, that is, they like to do much the same things in the same way, and get much the same benefits from doing them. Benefits Common to all Ages THERE are one or two general benefits to be derived from athletics that are common to all ages.
First, and most important, as play is an essential to growth, in so far as athletics, which are organized forms of vigorous bodily play, retain the play movements and the play spirit, they are not only beneficial but a necessity. It is difficult to define precisely the play spirit, but it may be described as that entirely carefree and happy abandon of mind and body expressed in action which is so frequently to be observed in young children, so rarely in adults. All for Sport
Parents who snub or ignore their childrens interest in athletics, who grumble that a boy is all for sport, or expect a grown-up interest in what we adults call work from boys and girls, are making a very grave mistake which can have exceedingly serious consequences, physical or mental, or both. It is entirely natural that a healthy boy or girl should be all for sport, if that means all for taking part in sport.
Athletic play, sports and games are indeed a vital part of his or her work – that great work of growing up healthy and vigorous in mind and body beside which all other considerations should take a very poor second place.
Further, athletic sports and games almost all take place in the open air, and for them specially light and scanty clothing is worn, so that sunlight and clean, moving air, the tonic and bracing effects of which are now universally recognized, and much better understood than even a generation ago, can play freely upon naked or semi-naked limbs and body.
By their vigorous or rhythmic nature (in the best forms of athletics there is a happy combination of vigour and rhythm), they exercise the muscles, strengthen the bones, soothe the nerves, break down fatty tissue, rid the body of waste products by increasing the flow of perspiration, stimulate the circulation of the blood and lymph, increase the production of bodily heat, in short, they tone up all our systems – muscular, nervous, digestive, and so on – and promote more vigorous living. They encourage a healthy appetite; they tire healthily body and mind, and so induce sound, refreshing sleep. Some of the Benefits
As all are trials of some form of skill, they develop in various and intricate ways co-ordination between brain and body, and tend to produce quick, accurate, economical thought responded to by quick, accurate, graceful action. They are objective interests, that is, they draw the child out of himself, and prevent him from sulking or brooding over injuries, or concentrating on his own perfections. He has to think of the game. They all involve some element of bodily risk or danger, and so call forth courage, and that quality we call grit which wo may describe as a combination of physical and moral courage and determination and power to stick it. They most of them involve companionship; they cannot be played alone, or only with much lessened interest; and so they are socializing forces, that is, they train children in the vastly difficult business of living in peace and concord with their neighbours.
Alongside these benefits we must, how- 509 ever, mention the foremost and always possible danger of overstrain. Because children are still growing, and because growth is itself a process continuously making heavy demands upon strength and nervous energy, because childrens bodies are tender and still incompletely knit together, physical overstrain or injury has always to be most carefully guarded against. Mention of nervous and mental strain will be made later, in connection with older children. (3 7) THESE are years of play, not athletics. It is true that the crude beginnings of many forms of athletics take place now; girls and boys at this age throw and kick balls, or hit them with bats or rackets, they run races, hop, skip and jump. Yet any attempt to make them play organized games, to take part in organized contests, to coach them in the strokes of a game or insist upon any rules but the simplest and fewest to meet any given occasion, is quite wrong.
Team games are not only unsuitable but impossible; the child has absolutely no sustained interest in the game except when it is taking a continuously active part in it – and it bitterly resents any interference with that. It is (quite naturally at its age) centred upon self, and it lives in a world largely imaginative; to play organized games one has to be a thorough realist – the rules demand it.
A lot might be said to defend the above, but it is hardly necessary. Watch a six-year-old at play; see him rush up to a football to kick it – and miss it altogether; or try to hit the simplest bowling you can give him – and miss the ball by feet. His body is not yet co-ordinated enough for the precision of athletics. Or observe the colossal swagger of the winner in a childish race – and the tears of the loser. His mind is not yet ready for the discipline of athletics. Or notice his fitful attention to any co-operative game. Let him play; certainly let him make his crude attempts to imitate the games of older children; encourage these if you like, but make no attempt to force them. Later he will ask to be taught the strokes, and will demand the rules.
Some people believe in teaching very young children to swim, to cycle, or to ride. The wisdom of this is doubtful. Special circumstances make special cases, and the child born by the sea may take to the water like a duck, or one born on a farm may ride almost as soon as he walks; but otherwise it comes back to the same question of organized and regulated activities in place of spontaneous ones, with added possibilities in these of exciting fear or straining by shock – as, for example, by plunging into cold, deep water.
DURING these years children grow steadily and fill out after the rapid growth which takes place between the ages of five and seven. A more detailed list of physical and mental characteristics is found elsewhere, but we may mention here as specially concerned with our argument that children between seven and eleven become steadily more active and energetic physically, until often they seem tireless; perpetually want to make something; can handle a wide variety of tools in rough-and-ready manner; become more and more matter-of-fact and practical; are, particularly from nine or so onwards, extremely quarrelsome and pugnacious, and intensely competitive and emulative.
Girls, as might be expected, do not become so pugnacious as boys, but they are more nearly matched physically, in height, weight and powers, with them than at any other period in life, and the two sexes can join in games freely.
It will be advisable to divide tins pariod into two, as interests change considerably and importantly, though the change is gradual. The first period is 7 to 9 years, the second 9 to 12.
From 7 to 9 years. As in early childhood, the emphasis must still be rather on play than on athletics, though agility and skill increase rapidly, and make possible simple organized group games in which each child for a short while is the leader or chief centre of interest. Team work is still out of the question; children still work for self and not for the team. Rounders and Relay Races
Rounders is excellent; so are chasing games and relay races. It is a mistake to attempt cricket, football or other team games except in go-as-you-please fashion, or any games, such as tennis, demanding observance of an elaborate code of rules. All these games may be played, but without the rigour of the rules. The football, bat or racket should be considered a tool helping to the acquisition of skill.
The increasing strength, energy and skill of children at this age make them eager to try out any number of pursuits, especially those which give full vent to their physical energy and their desire to make or do things. It is therefore a good time for introduction to swimming, riding, cycling, simple folk dancing, eurhythmies – pursuits which involve the learning of new dexterities and at the same time satisfy the desire of the self to be assertive and creative. Wolf Cubs and Brownies
The junior divisions of the Scouts and Guides organizations, the Wolf Cubs and the Brownies, are wonderfully successful attempts to provide a wide variety of engaging pursuits for youngsters at this age.
From 9 to 12 years. This is a most interesting period, though a most difficult one for parents and teachers to deal with.
Energy is boundless, and a youngsters range develops tremendously – he will think nothing, for example, of disappearing for a whole day, turning up at sunset having walked and run perhaps twenty miles (though he does not realize it); companions of his (or her) own ago become all-compelling, and home is forgotten except at mealtimes; the urgo to create often makes sad havoc with fathers carpentering tools or mothers work-basket; quarrels, contentions and rivalries fill the air. Forcing the Pace
Clearly athletics ought to have an important part to play in so physically and mentally active a time. It has, and wisely used, athletics can be of the greatest possible service to the boy or girl between 9 and 12. Unfortunately, the desire of some parents or teachers to force the pace often destroys much of the good. Drilling children to a Robot-like perfection of skill and movement is unwise.
It is unwise because these children are still children. Their physical energy and powers of endurance may be boundless, but their capacity for intense and concentrated energy is still weak; and so is their ability to control any skill they acquire. Success depends on a dominant adult personality directing and controlling. The Team Spirit
This is most undesirable because athletics wisely used should at this period develop a most precious gift, that of leadership, with all that it means of personality and initiative in the leader, and of team spirit in the led.
We have heard much in recent years of the team spirit. The principle is being everywhere applied in business, in scientific research, and in social activities as well as in athletics. But it is well to remember that every team must have a leader, that the instinct and ability for leadership develops strongly first between 9 and 12, that athletics, by reason of their social character and satisfaction of physical needs, is perhaps the most powerful instrument we possess for development during these years of what may later become the power of responsible, restrained and far-seeing leadership.
Not all can be leaders, but many can; a team is a small unit, and leaders of innumerable grades and qualities of capacity are required in life. Moreover, the value of strong, wise leadership should be even greater to those led than to the leader. His is the joy of creation, of initiation, of direction; theirs the satisfaction of the eternal hunger to worship, to be guided and protected. Intensive Training
Intensive training is unwise also for two other important reasons. It destroys the play spirit in games, and actually deprives the child of time in which to play. Though at this age boys and girls are becoming very matter-of-fact and insatiably curious about things, there is still in them a most powerful urge to pla 7, to throw off the burden of learning, and thinking, and making, and doing, and to rag about, as we call it. Ragging about at this age is sadly destructive of clothes, and results in innumerable bumps, bruises, cuts and other injuries, but it is a necessity to growth, and any formal training, even in games, which deprives a youngster of indulging in it is wrong. A Non-understanding Perfection
Further, at this age boys and girls are very curious about the whys and the wherefores of their games. They want to know all about the rules, and will ruin (to our mind) their games by quarrelling over them. Again, this is a natural stago of growth; but intensive training or coaching robs them of this opportunity; it drills them into a non-understanding perfection. The aim of athletics for boys and girls is not to manufacture a supply of prodigies, but to produce and promote bodily fitness, and through the training of the body develop the right type of character.
Practically every form of athletics mentioned in our list may be attempted now – attempted, that is, tried, experimented with, enjojed. The age of concentration and of great skill is not yet. Team games may be freely indulged in, though preferably under adult supervision, to prevent too frequent and too bitter quarrels, and to see that rules are generously interpreted; group activities allowing for frequent trials in simple leadership are better, such as Scouting and Guiding.
If such activities involve competitive interest, and particularly if each member of the group in turn performs the same activity, as in relay racing, so much the better still. Individual athletic activities of every sort, walking, running, cycling, swimming, sole practice for football, cricket, tennis and so on, are all to be encouraged provided they are actuated by honest pride in bodily skill and honest desire to excel and are not directed towards an unwholesome publicity.
EARLY YOUTH (12 to 16)
THESE four years are quite the most difficult to write about, not because there is any doubt as to the value of athletics to boys and girls during this period, but because of the great physiological and psychological changes which take place during adolescence. In a government report published in 1926, these words occur: There is a tide which begins to rise in the veins of youth at the age of eleven or twelve. It is called by the name of adolescence. If that tide can be taken at the flood, and a new voyage begun in the strength and along the flow of its current, we think that it will move on to fortune. A new voyage – with all its mysteries, anticipations, excitements, disappoint- ments, exaltations – that is our main difficulty. Our children begin anew, and yet do not begin afresh. They play their games, as they do their work, day after day, as in childhood; as each day passes it is forgotten, but its influence remains; and the accumulation of days and weeks and months pile up a change which is no less than a new way of life; and the last people to suspect that this change is going on or to understand the meaning of its symptoms are the children themselves. Next to them in ignorance stand all too many parents. During Adolescence Our difficulties in attempting to value the full worth of athletics during adolescence are heightened by the facts that some children pass through it almost without physical or mental disturbance; others are thrown out of their stride more or less seriously, and in a perplexing variety of ways. The changes may take place earl or late, gradually or quickly, continuously or spasmodically. There are at least two separate periods of marked instability. Individual aptitudes develop, and the interests and aptitudes of the sexes branch rapidly apart, and remain so. Compulsory Games The first, and longer, period of instability usually occupies all or part of the years 12 to 14, while the years 15-16 are usually relatively stable.
The team game of the contest type is the most excellent form of athletics during these years. That this is generally recognized is shown by the fact that all schools for boys and girls over 11 have their cricket and football, or hockey, teams which play regularly throughout the season, while other athletic activities (except tennis in girls schools), occur only occasionally. There are, for example, annual atliletic and swimming sports, but a term or two is given to football.
This is not the place to enter upon a discussion of whether compulsory games and sports in schools is right or wrong; we would only observe that most of the difficulties created by compulsion would be eliminated if the school included games periods in its time-table and provided suitable alternative activities for children unable or unwilling to take part in athletics. This is actually done by many schools.
Endurance and Control TVITH the reminder that all state- ments about this period must be quite general statements, that is, they give the rough truth about the mass of children, and may be contradicted in any or every particular by individual experiences, we may now attempt to summarize briefly the values of athletics to boys between 12 and 16. This we shall do under three headings, namely: physical and intellectual, moral, and aesthetic, though it will be understood that in fact these are as a rule inextricably interconnected and interdependent.
The general physical benefits derived from athletics have been summarized previously in this article. Here we may add that between 12 and 16, powers both of endurance and control as well as of actual strength increase greatly, and are less and less satisfied by the spontaneous activity of play, with its abandon and intellectual aimlessness. To Excel and to Serve
Body and mind require a definite reason for activity, a definite form of activity, a definite aim in activity; the process of using and developing the physical powers becomes conscious – as may be seen by the hour after hour that a boy will practise whatever he desires at the moment to make perfect – a stroke at cricket or tennis, shooting at goal, high diving, shadow boxing, and so on. Real skill is demanded, and real tests of endurance, preferably with the result delayed until the very last possible moment, hence the over-powering popularity of football, which answers practically every demand the adolescent makes of his game.
It is during these years that the moral value of athletics is gained. If a boy learns to play the game so that he can apply the lesson to any situation in life he learns it during these years. It would be easy to go into lengthy detail over playing the game, and the team spirit, but that is unnecessary. We will concentrate on the one fundamental aspect.
There are in each one of us when young, two burning desires: to excel and to serve; wo long to be brilliant, accomplished, clever, and we long to be of use to others. It depends upon the success with which we foster and balance those two desires what we make of our lives. The great moral value of athletics is that they afford a unique training, one that a boy can enjoy and can understand, in the fostering and balancing of these desires. One must give of ones best in a game; one has endless opportunity to excel personally; it is right that one should. But one is never playing for oneself, but for ones team; and so, while ones natural desire to excel is never frustrated, it has to be developed within the limits imposed by the general good. Personal excellence is directed towards common welfare. From this, spring loyalty, co-operation, the team spirit, the spirit of give and take, of modest acceptance of success and the bearing of disappointment with courage and fortitude, of integrity, of abiding by the spirit rather than the letter of the law, of playing the game.
Not much is usually said about the aesthetic aspect of the value of athletics, but a moments thought will assure us that the beauty in games and sports must have a profound impression upon joung people. Athletics, as the Greeks well knew, is a supreme manifestation of beauty, the beauty of the human body in controlled and graceful action. We have to-day 18 added to the possibilities by making a habit of playing our games in beautiful surroundings, and of dressing attractively when we play them. We may help children to a better appreciation of this value if we encourage and enable them always to turn out spick and span and clean for games, with neat, attractive kit.
The same general values may be expected for girls, though with important modifications due to sex, and to a less degree to the fact that athletics for girls is a more recent development than for boys. Thus there is probably less emphasis to be laid on physical courage, and physical reasons demand protection from risks and dangers that may be faced by boys. The team spirit may be less strongly developed; the girl remains through life more of an individualist, and acta more instinctively, than the boy. On the other hand, greater emphasis can be laid on the aesthetic value of games and sports. Girls mature earlier than boys, and earlier regard games with a more detached and sophisticated attitude.
Throughout these years, on account of the changes due to adolescence, and particularly in the case of girls, physical and emotional strain must be guarded against, Games are beloved by young people, and they will readily over-fatigue themselves or worry themselves over a period of non-success or ill-luck. Parents and teachers can easily cause overstrain by too enthusiastic encouragement or training, or by attaching too much importance to success.
Wo would draw special attention to three points, two general and one particular. (1) The two bones forming the shoulder-blade are not joined together till the age of puberty, while the three bones which later form the hip-bone do not join together till about the age of 15 in girls, 16 in boys. These facts show that the body should not be subjected to intense or sustained muscular effort. (2) Excep- tional care should be taken of girls during the menstrual periods (of which accurate records should be kept); and it is important to remember that a girl is often less fit to take part in games during the days immediately preceding menstruation than during the actual period. (3) The practice of training – i.e.. dieting, weight-reducing and so on – children for events on the running track, or for boxing, swimming or jumping, is unnecessary and harmful to health. Needless to say, children with weak hearts or physical defect should only play games under medical advice.
LATER YOUTH (16 to 18) HTHIS section because secondary schools retain pupils up to the ago of 18 or even 19. For such boys and girls athletics may have a very profound and far-reaching benefit, for their school games demand from them now, not only coinage, endurance and skill, but also leadership, cool judgment both on and off the field, and often a good deal of hard thinking, since, as prefects and games captains, thoy have to plan for the younger members of the school.
Most important, athletics now affords them the priceless opportunity of setting an example. Now is the time for them to manifest the value of their previous training.
It is the older boys or girls who will set the tone of that spirit. Nowhere elso have they so excellent an opportunity to demonstrate (and enforce if need be, for their word runs as law throughout the school) the real meaning of playing the game, without fear or favour, keenly yet fairly, striving with every nerve to win yet scorning foul means and underhand tricks, and accepting defeat, when it comes, with cheerful sportsmanship.
But the vast majority of young people are by this ago out in the world earning, or partially earning, their living. For them the value of athletics must begin to be judged by adult standards.
Just as play merged gradually into games with the passing from infancy to childhood, so now must games begin to mergo into recreation, and take an ever lessening, though still highly important subsidiary part in life. Nothing is better for youth than clean, healthy athletics, but their business now is recreation, refreshment of body and soul.
Play filled life in the early years; play was work, and work was play. Athletics in childhood and early youth form an integral part of education, training body, mind and character. The business of later youth is work, adult work, the earning of a living, and the living of a life that will justify its existence.
The necessity for training through athletics should grow steadily less as maturity of body and mind grow nearer. The signs of thb may usually be observed in the athletics of 16-18; a high degree of skill is achieved, there is a mastery in approach, an ease in handling; teamwork, leadership, responsibility, co-operation and mutual understanding are all now accepted, not still being learnt.
The values have been acquired; the time is at hand for their influence to be felt by others. Not that this means that the value of athletics as training for body or character is at an end; far from it. Physical growth continues up to 25, mental growth should continue so long as one lives. To our very last days wo may derive recreation through healthful games, and learn from the lessons which athletics has to teach us.