Sports and Imaginative Play Go Hand In Hand
There once was a trash can named John Blue. The real John Blue was a backup goalie for the Boston Bruins in the 90s who played really well for like 3 weeks before fading into obscurity. Trash Can John Blue was a trash can who played goalie when me and my neighborhoods friends would play hockey. We would occasionally even talk to Trash Can John Blue or congratulate him on a save or yell at him in frustration when he blocked one of our shots. He was an imaginary character more than a trash can.
When we think of children playing sports, often the image is of kids in a team uniform loaded up into a Subaru on a Saturday morning and being driven to a local field where a soccer coach (who most likely knows nothing about soccer) coaches them in a game where children chase the ball around and parents take it way too seriously and get upset with each other. Ok maybe that description was over the top, but what I am getting at is we associate sports with organized sports. Organized sports with their over abundance of adult involvement don’t offer much chance for using ones imagination (unless you are that kid in right field in Little League who the ball never comes too).
On the other hand, unorganized sports have a free play quality that often brings out children’s use of imagination. It’s not just anthropomorphic trash cans. A child shooting a basketball by themselves might use their imagination to concoct scenarios where they are shooting the game winning three over Lebron James or Breanna Stewart. A couple kids playing Wiffle Ball can pretend that they are in Game 7 of the World Series all while imaginary runners populate the base paths. A group of children going for a bike ride might envision themselves in a SE Bike Ride Out video or going on an adventure to stop The Mind Flayer from emerging from the Upside Down or solving some other mystery. Kids might body slam a pillow and go for the pin all while imagining that moment is a culmination of a month’s long struggle to defeat Brock Lesnar for the World Title Belt. Those are some of the countless ways children can combine sports with their imaginations. Organized sports have their place. But we also need to give children the time and space to play unorganized sports with their friends and even alone. To do that, we also need policies that create safe and well maintained neighborhood parks where families feel comfortable letting their children play unsupervised and children can play sports and use their imagination.