Recently I appeared on a local radio talk show to speak about some of the benefits of Video Games for education. It is a popular topic for radio talk shows because it is somewhat controversial and many people have strong opinions on the topic (not really based on fact but strong opinions never-the-less.) You can listen to the show and see some of the interesting comments at the link Educating through video games -- Radio Smart Talk, Tuesday, June 23
On the show one of the callers accused me of just pointing out the positive aspects of video games and ignoring the negative aspects and then he went on to explain why organized kids sports were so much better at teaching kids life skills like, teamwork, cooperation, sportsmanship, over coming adversity, etc. Then he contended that video games can't teach ethics, empathy or other important skills. The implication is that kids learn far more positive lessons in organized kids sports than playing video games.
This is a common argument and seems to have merit on the surface but it has always bothered me. Do sports always teach these laudable values? Are organized kids sports "perfect" teachers of morals and teamwork while video games are "evil."
To determine if this is right, I did some research to find out just what kids learn playing organized sports.
Lessons Taught via Organized Kids Sports
Here are some of the lessons:
Humiliation builds character.
This lesson was taught by basketball coach Micah Grimes who's high school girl's basketball team beat a winless opponent 100 to zero. According to one article "The defeated, scoreless team had eight girls on its varsity roster and about 20 girls total in its high school. The team was winless over four previous seasons. The school for those girls specializes in teaching students struggling with 'learning differences,' such as short attention spans or dyslexia."
The opposing coach denies running up the score (which is up for debate) and in a letter to the editor, he wrote "We experienced a blowout almost 4 years ago [not 100 to 0] and it was painful, but it made us who we are today. I believe in the lessons that sports teach us. Competition builds character, and teaches us to value selflessness, hard work, and perseverance." So I guess the lesson from coach is if you humiliate another team 100 to nothing you are making them better.
According to Coach Grimes, he wasn't humiliating that team or running up the score, he was simply teaching those girls a valuable sports lesson, he was building character by humiliating them by as large a margin as possible so they'd be better later...that's the sports logic. I'm sure those girls are better today having been beaten by 100 points, 80 just wouldn't have the same "positive impact."
Here is the coaches letter. And here is an article on the game.
Kick the other team when they are down.
While it is debatable if Coach Grimes ran up the score or not (although it is tough to score 100 points in basketball no matter who the opponent is without trying), I do know for a fact that in some soccer leagues, ties and ranking are not only based on how many games you've won but are based on score differentials. The difference between the number of goals your team scores and the number of goals scored against you. What that means is the more goals a team scores in one season the more likely they are to win ties and to even have a higher overall ranking. This practice encourages running up the score which I have witnessed (17-0 U10 boys.) The incentive is to score as much as you can against a weaker opponent because you then have more goals overall. Kick them when they are down, you'll be rewarded for it later.
Winning means everything so do it at all costs.
In an unfortunate incident, two men, Michael Costin, a hockey coach, and father Thomas Junta got into an altercation. It occurred when Junta became angry about slashing and checking in what was supposed to be a non-contact hockey scrimmage, which Costin was supervising. Junta saw another player elbow his son in the face and yelled. Costin replied, "That's hockey." The two men then got into a scuffle near the locker rooms. The boys father, Junta, punched Costin repeatedly in the head and Costinlater died of head trauma.
Read the article here.
Here are additional stories, not at the level of life or death, but of adult mis-behavior at kids sporting events..
The first paragraph from above referenced article is chilling: El Paso youth football games were always rowdy events. But in one memorable year there were two stabbings, a gunfight, and numerous attacks on officials -- all caused by parents taking their children's games too seriously...After one huge melee one parent stabbed another in the head with a down marker while 8- and 9-year-old players watched in horror."
Lessons learned? Perhaps a new use for a down marker. Maybe the kids were learning problem-solving...if you don't have a knife handy and you want to stab someone, think of outside the box...what else is sharp enough at a football game for me to insert it into someone's head. Another valuable sports lesson.
It is ok to scream, insult, yell obscenities and even injure certain people, if you don't agree with them.
Here a just a couple of referee and umpire abuse stories. I am sure you've witnessed some yourself. These are from the National Association of Sports Officials who, unfortunately, have a long list.
In November 2004, a soccer referee was attacked by a youth coach at halftime of a match between 8- and 9-year-olds in the East Bay city of Albany
A parent body-slammed a high school basketball referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities during a basketball game. The referee was treated at a hospital for a concussion and released after the attack.
Roger Bratcher, a father of a T-ball player was briefly jailed after an outburst against an umpire during a game involving 5- and 6-year-olds. The accused threatened to beat the umpire moments before walking onto the field and starting a fight with Eddie Smith, who was officiating the game, according to the criminal complaint. A girl who was playing in the game suffered a minor injury when she was struck in the face during the scuffle.
Also see Violence in Kids Sports for more examples.
And read Abrasive coaches, parents threaten youth sports.
Cheat to win, lie if need be.
In order to win the Little League World Series, coaches illegally played a boy who was two years older than any other boy in the league. First time I saw the boy on TV, I knew he was older than 12 but apparently his parents, coaches and others were clueless...ask long as they were winning.
And the false birth certificate didn't help either. The boy who dominated the Little League World Series in 2005 with his 70 mph fastballs was ruled ineligible after government records experts determined he actually is 14, and that birth certificates showing he was two years younger were false..."Clearly, adults have used this boy and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way," said Stephen D. Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball in South Williamsport, PA.
However, the founder of the Bronx league in which the boy was allowed to play took no responsibility. He stated, "I trust all the parents in the league to present original documents," said Paulino, who was flanked by team members and parents. "If the parents lie to the league that is not my problem." Did he look at the kid? Didn't the obvious skills gap raise a red flag? The boy clearly not 12. When it means the difference between winning and loosing, some things like rules tend to get overlooked. Ooops. The lesson? cheat if you can get away with it and look the other way if it means you can win a few more games.
Read the story here.
If your team has bad players, get rid of them anyway you can.
Mark R. Downs, a T-ball coach, was convicted of offering an 8-year-old money ($25) to bean an autistic teammate so he couldn't play in an important game was convicted Thursday of two lesser charges against him, and evaded more serious charges. The lesson? Kill the weak, autistic kids shouldn't play baseball, not seeing sportsmanship here, empathy, ethics...anyone? Maybe the coach was teaching the value of money?
Here is the sad article.
Playing Time is Life and Death
In Philadelphia a father pulled a .357 Magnum on his son's football coach, enraged that his son wasn't getting enough playing time -- in an Under-7 Pee Wee football game. Teamwork is the lesson, the father and the coach were working together to get more playing time for the seven year old (sorry under 7).
This comes from an excellent article on the topic titled: Parents, coaches who need time-outs Adult violence at kids' sports sets a terrible example
Ok, ok, you say, "but Karl these are a few isolated incidents, you are just picking out the most violent incidents." Unfortunately, this is a growing trend. Nationwide, incidents of violence among parents involved in youth sports quadrupled between 2000 and 2005 according to Fred Engh, founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The National Association of Sports Officials receives more than 100 reports annually that involve physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials.
These are real incidents of violence as opposed to the fictitious violence portrayed in some video games. These are real people pulling real guns, using real fists and endangering real lives. I ask is a child safer playing a video game where the interactions are not real or participating in an event that is likely to turn violent? The kids are witnessing real role-models behaving horribly.
Contrast the violent, win-at-all-cost narcissistic attitude that exudes from kids sports with the traits taught by video games (according to a joint commission of the National Federation of Scientists, the National Science Foundation and the non-profit group, the Entertainment Software Association.) The positive traits of video games:
- Many video games require players to master skills in demand by today’s employers—strategic and analytical thinking, problem solving, planning and execution, decision-making,and adaptation to rapid change.
- Video games can be used to practice practical skills and important skills that are rarely used, to train for high-performance situations in a low-consequence-for-failure environment, and for team building.
- Video Games offer attributes important for learning—clear goals, lessons that can be practiced repeatedly until mastered, monitoring learner progress and adjusting instruction to learner level of mastery, closing the gap between what is learned and its use, motivation that encourages time on task, personalization of learning, and infinite patience.
Catalog of Recommended Books, Games and Gadgets
Recommended Games and Gadgets