Lessons from a Sandlot

Alison Grodzinski Blog Posts 12 Comments

By: Pete Hutchison, YES Program Director

As a kid we used to head to the vacant lot to play ball, rather than stay home to do chores or homework.  It did not matter how many of us showed up to play, the game was always played because no one wanted to face the alternative awaiting us at home.  As a result we made alterations in the game so we could play.  We learned to create rules, such as pitchers hand out, invisible runners, and right field out.  We also developed the art of adhering to these rules because a game ending argument would require a return home with our  chores and/or homework awaiting us there.  Any disputes or rule enforcement was handled by us; we didn’t have any adults so we learned conflict resolution skills, to keep the game going.

It was not  just sandlot baseball, it was on the playground at noon time, it was hide and seek (making your younger sibling count to 500 hundred by ones while you hid) , red rover, buck-buck.  All of these games and more taught us life lessons of collaboration, problem solving, and competition.

As an adult I set out to be the best parent possible.  I enrolled my son in little league, youth hockey, soccer, piano lessons, on and on and on.  What these activities all had in common was that there was no opportunity to create rules, no ownership of the rules that governed the activity, no opportunity to enforce the rules to be followed.  I coached youth hockey and it is a classic example.  Five year old hockey players follow the same rules as the pros on the same size ice rink.  If a five year old is fortunate enough to carry the puck all the way to the opponents blue line and happens to slip his skate over the line before the puck, he or she will be upset when an adult stops the play and takes the puck away.  A five year old certainly does not understand intentional off sides, as a result they are being penalized and never knowing why, by an adult that they have likely never seen before, in a game that they sometimes do not want to be playing.

I am not being critical of today’s culture, I am simply pointing out that it is different today.  I would not necessarily advocate sending young children five or six blocks away to play ball in a vacant lot the way I did, but I think it is important that we acknowledge the differences.

We expect our young people to know the skills we learned through play, even though they don’t have the chance to learn those lessons.  We need to provide our young people with the opportunities to have those experiences in a safe environment.  That is one of the primary goals of the Youth Empowerment Solutions for Positive Youth Development (YES) program.  Not only do we give young people the opportunity to learn those life skills, but we also give them the opportunity to master them.  Young people in YES are learning how to create rules, take ownership and responsibility for their actions, enforce the rules they define for themselves and make a commitment to an activity.  It may not be sandlot baseball in a vacant lot, but we believe the results can be just as dynamic.

Comments 12

  1. I agree with your insight on how it is difficult for kids to learn life lessons on their own today. I believe society is overprotective of children and because of that, there is a lack of trust that is among these children. Parents do not trust that their kid will learn how to cooperate by others or obey the rules on their own, they merely just decide for them to avoid any damage that might be caused to the child’s decision making process. One of the best things anyone can learn is to hold yourself, and others, accountable for actions. In my university’s Public Policy and Administration class, I learned that holding others accountable for their actions not only gets the job done, but teaches responsibility and cooperation, much like the lessons that the sandlot taught you. Today, it is hard for kids to learn how to hold each other accountable when superiors, such as coaches, parents, and teachers, are making the decisions for them.

  2. I agreed with what you are saying in your blog. I remember the times I would play “baseball” (we would just play with 4 people), hide and seek, freeze tag, and other such games in my backyard. Those were the times. I would make rules with my cousins when we would play our games. I wished we could go bakc to those times. I think its hard now to have children do that. The world has changed so much in the last twenty years. You cannot really send your kids to an empty lot and let them play. THere are weird people out there. I like that the YES program is trying to give children this chance on making them have fun and learn at the same time. Once i become a parent i hope YES program is there for my children. I want them to expericence life and not just be stuck on their phones or t.v.

    1. Jorge,

      First of all thanks for the reminder about freeze tag, I’d forgotten. You are correct about the “weird people” out there which is why programs for young people must take over for what we learned on our own. The YES program intentionally sets up situations were young people must make the kinds of decisions that we discuss in both my blog and your response. One very important aspect of this environment is that it allows young people to fail and to learn from their mistakes.

      Thanks for your thoughts,

  3. I completely agree with you Peter. I myself am a mother and I believe as well that it is important to hold children accountable for their decisions and teach them to become responsible. As you said, it may not be having them play in a vacant lot but everyday activities that they do is a good way to start implementing these long term skills. Many of the youth that do not acquire these skills may be because they were never given an opportunity or an explanation to their actions when they were children. I feel that learning about responsibility, accountability, and other skills should be first learned at home and reinforced in school and in their community. Unfortunately we all know that is not the case all the time, but, great programs such as YES and other community organizations do a great job helping youth as well as the parents in learning about the importance of these skills which help our youth learn and live productive lives. Thank you for your blog.

    1. Jessica,

      First of all no apology is necessary. Only my mother and my wife refer to me as Peter and then only when I’m in trouble, it is however, my given name. The point you make about the necessity for teaching our youth the lessons we learned on the sandlot, is critical. Unfortunately it is my experience that we assume young people know these lessons even though they’ve never been taught. The other issue is who’s responsible for doing the teaching, I believe that we all are, parents, teachers, neighbors, who ever. Maybe more importantly is to allow the youth to question the lessons and learn their are negative consequences, while at the same time giving them unconditional love.

      Thanks for your input,

      1. Thanks, and you are right we are all responsible in teaching the children. They live in a community and go to school therefore it should be the parents, the school, and the community all collaborating together so that our children can be successful.

  4. I absolutely agree with this post about the youth. Nowadays it has become so difficult for children to want to go outside and play with their next door neighbors or go to the park. I really believe that this draw back has to do with video games and all of this new technology that is preventing children from social interaction with one another. This YES program is just what most communities needs and what will get kids to think of other ways to have fun and be entertained, rather than rotting their brains in front of a computer, phone, Nintendo or Wii or any other anti social activities. It is nice to know that there are organizations out there that are striving to reach out at kids and either prevent them from getting in harms way, and/or just letting them know that there are many more ways to enjoy their youth by genuine human interaction.

    1. Limary,

      Great point about the time spent in front of the screen. We are currently doing research looking into the behaviors of youth who have reported large amounts of “screen time.” Although we can’t show that they’ve rotted their brain we can show that they are less likely to be able to deal with conflict achieving postive outcomes. Again it would seem that TV, videos and computer games, no matter how interactive are a poor substitute for real relationships with real people.

      Thanks for your input,

  5. You are absolutely correct in everything you just stated,and not just because I enjoy reading you stuff. When looking at how young children are growing up now many are not playing sports at all, and if they some are playing them in front of a television or computer screen. I can still remember when I was younger riding bikes with my neighbors,and all the arguments we would get into because we wanted to feel as if one bike was better than the other. We would never actually start fist fighting, but instead agree to disagree then continue on playing. It is great to hear that the YES program revolves around the fundamental idea that kids have to be kids in a safe environment. Being that I myself did play sports growing up the only thing I took from it was that I learned how to defend myself from constant bullying because I was a husky kid. Nevertheless, there is nothing like having minimal adult supervision and just playing a game to enjoy yourself. Even in sports rule tend to ruin things, but at times they are necessary.

  6. Julian,

    I definitely agree that rules are necessary and in all my sandlot games we always had rules, the difference was that we made them up, so we could play the game with the number of kids present. Because these rules were made with great understanding as to why we had them and how they functioned to help us enjoy the game, we were all okay with following them and didn’t need an adult to enforce them. This skill has served me well over the years and I’m proud to say the I got it in the vacant lot next to Nelson B’s house on Rosemont.

    Thanks for your input,

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