If, as a child, I wanted to play baseball, I called a friend who called a friend who called a friend. In this way, word went through the neighborhood. At the appointed time, an armada of would-be Mickey Mantles on bicycles converged on the chosen field.
The two best players, designated captains, "tossed the bat." The last one able to hold the bat in the air in one way or another chose first.
This ritual guaranteed that the teams always would be different, which further meant that no intense rivalries could develop because the fellow you were playing against one day might be your teammate the next.
Our social skills expanded in adaptation to this arrangement. We learned how to both cooperate and compete with one another. Furthermore, sooner or later, everyone was on a winning team.
We were in complete control of the game. We determined who would play and who would not and who would play what position. We modified the rules to suit the size of the field and the number of players.
By trial and error, we became better and better skilled at resolving conflicts that arose in the course of a game.
And the only spectators to this game were a handful of children who, passing by on their bikes, stopped to watch out of curiosity. This was play. Glorious play.
Today, you find children in baseball leagues organized by adults. There is no tossing of the bat, therefore, the teams are always the same and intense rivalries develop. Because the teams don't change, a child is either on a winning team or a losing team.
Adults coach, umpire, determine who will play and who will not, who will play what position, and what the rules shall be. Adults resolve conflicts that arise in the course of the game. Adults maintain the fields, provide equipment, give the teams names and design the uniforms.
Adults hand out the trophies at the end of the season. And the audience to this game consists of a bleacher-full of adults who are yelling -- at the coaches, the umpires, the kids and one another.
This isn't play. This is performance and this is pressure and we have no business doing this to children and no excuse can justify it.
"Now, John, you know, times have changed. You can't just send kids out on their bikes anymore to find a game. Kids need safe, supervised places to play."
Fine, I agree. So, I'd like to issue a challenge to every community in this country: Take the same amount of adult time, energy and money that go into the creation and maintainance of these leagues -- whether they be baseball, football, or soccer -- and put it toward providing kids with safe places to play without getting involved in their play. Surely that can be done.
See that field over there? Buy it if you need to. Set aside Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings for games. On those days, parents would transport those kids who wanted to play to those fields and drop them off.
Rule One: Parents cannot stay. A different two adults would be assigned to supervise each game.
Rule Two: The supervisors cannot make any decisions concerning the game. They can simply consult. Unless called upon, they sit a respectable distance from the field and talk about events in Eastern Europe.
I'm simply suggesting that we give our children back their games. They don't belong to us and the best of intentions do not justify our interference.
Last January's issue of Fortune carried an article advising corporate parents on ways they can maximize quality time with their children. One example given was that of a northeastern executive who goes to work at dawn so he can come home early enough to coach his son's soccer team.
I wasn't impressed. Now, if this same fellow went to work at dawn so he could spend more time with his wife, then I'd have been impressed.
We need to get our adult priorities in order folks. For our kids' sake.
John Rosemond is a psychologist and columnist who lives with his wife and two children in Gastonia, N.C.