OPINION

Time for team sports in schools

It may be sad to confess, but as I grow older, as my children grow, as I observe society, I begin to miss the things that I revolted against when I was young. Lately, I have even begun to believe that our children’s lives would improve immeasurably if they were forced to participate in team sports at school. First, this would force the state to pull up its socks and create playing fields within schools or nearby, while this would improve the quality of life of students and the surrounding area as well. (If buildings must be expropriated for the creation of basketball courts or a football field, it will benefit everyone.) Secondly, tournaments between other schools would create a sense of collective effort and personal identification with the school and the neighborhood – instead of leaving this bonding exclusively to cafeterias and shared smokes in parks. The children of immigrants who would excel in team sports would open the way for the quicker integration of all migrants into Greek society. And perhaps most importantly, we would have much healthier youngsters with a far better understanding of their own physical and mental strengths and weaknesses. I judge from myself. In elementary school, I made no effort to take part in team sports. But then I found myself boarding in a high school where we all had to participate in a team sport in winter and another in summer. I remember how the evil-looking game of rugby quickly turned to love – how fear of an unknown sport turned into an addiction to test our limits, a desire to crash and burn and get up again. I also remember how I hated lost summer hours when we had to play cricket through the weekend – so I developed a healthy, enlightening anger against the arbitrary decisions of those in power and a keen understanding of relics of the British Empire. But in joy, in tribulation and in complaint we were fused into a team in the most unique way. These thoughts came to me – as so many do nowadays – with a strong dose of irony as I watched this country’s teenagers warming up for yet another winter of demonstrations and nationwide school sit-ins. It looks – I thought – as if resistance against the system has been adopted as a compulsory lesson in preparation for a society in which he who shouts loudest wins, in which we coalesce into groups which will support our interests against those of others. I saw the sit-ins as just one more malignancy in a body politic that has no interest in solving its problems. But then a parent with a lot more experience of these things, whose daughter graduated from school last year, enlightened me to the fact that the sit-ins are not just an opportunity to skip classes: They also create a situation that allows schoolchildren to develop leadership qualities (or dictatorial ones) and to act as a team, sharing responsibilities and working in shifts. It is, in other words, like a team sport with political ramifications. That’s not bad, seeing as the school system on its own is incapable of drawing out leadership qualities and nurturing team spirit. But the enormous drawback is that these revolutionary exercises close schools, they force all the school’s pupils to miss their classes, irrespective of whether they want to, and, while they last, no one can guarantee security on the school grounds. That’s why I thought that maybe it would be better if the children had an institutionalized way in which to test their abilities in the crucial years in the passage to adulthood. I wouldn’t suggest they turn their backs on political issues and on a healthy questioning of power and the establishment, but I believe it would be far more useful in later life if the children staged demonstrations and sit-ins when the causes were so serious as to leave them no other way to express rage and despair. When they learn to react in the most dynamic way for even the most minor cause, they do not know how to handle the real world – either on an individual level or as a whole. I believe that’s part of the reason why there are so many misfits and unnaturally angry people in our society. Teenagers in schools that offer team sports will learn their own abilities and also what they should expect from the pupil next to them and from the team as a whole. It is most likely that the children will have a much better relationship with their school as they will have identified with it and with their schoolmates to a much greater extent. In any case, when the time for serious sit-ins comes, they will be the best, the most dynamic, the most highly organized sit-ins we will have seen.