New Games, Not Working

Matthew Rainnie, in a recent post, reminded me, indirectly, of New Games, a book published in 1976 that was, for a time, the bible for the leaders at the YMCA I grew up with.

The “new” in “New Games” meant post-competitive. There were a lot of parachutes and giant “earth balls.” The emphasis was on cooperation rather than competition. And somehow this all existed without the taint of ice breakers: New Games were actually fun, for everyone. It was a Good Idea.

Matthew writes about a family that’s traveling across the country because, as Matthew paraphrases the father, “society is so work-obsessed these days he wanted a year to play with his kids and experience things with them.”

When I read that, I was shocked to realize how seldom we hear people say things like this: he wanted a year to play with his kids and experience things with them.

We have come, more and more, to regard childhood as a protracted entrepreneurship training progam. Even when things that are supposed to be fun, there can be other forces at work; witness this primer for parents from the Arizona Daily Star:

Sure, competition is important. We do live in a competitive society, and it’s good that young athletes get exposed to it early on. With a sensible dose, competition can motivate kids to work hard at improving their skills. Competition is a teacher; it unveils your weaknesses and shows you what you need to work on and where you stand among your peers. But when the drive is to win at all costs, the value of competition is lost.

In other words, competition is important because it helps us learn how to get ahead, beat our neighbours for the plumb job, find our place in the pecking order.

New Games wasn’t about winning, or getting ready for the competitive society, or improving skills. It was about having fun: kids, adults, short, tall, male, female.

Perhaps it’s so surprising that a man would want a year to play with his kids and experience things with them because we’ve become so used to the notion of all time have a goal-oriented, career-directed, purpose, that the idea of just experiencing things, of playing, has become foreign.

That’s too bad.

So, Bravo! traveling family: enjoy your year of play, and here’s hoping you can stretch it into a full life.


Kevin's picture
Kevin on December 10, 2003 - 01:49 Permalink

Competition vs cooperation as a parenting choice:

I have been on two sides of this issue my entire life. My essential nature is to never have stress but I was raised in a society which demanded otherwise. Nevertheless, the most intensely enjoyable bits of my life have come during the most difficult of competitive environments.

I all with the idea of raising kids without conflict — even ritualized pretend conflict as we have in many sports — but I wonder if competition isn’t essential to every life and we do no one any service by not prepairing them well for what’s to come.

Firmly on both sides I guess…