Imagine the scene. Dave Henderson of the 1988 Oakland Athletics stands at the plate and takes his power-hitter stance. From atop the mound, Dodger great, Orel Hershiser stares long and hard at the catcher’s signal. Two runners on, bottom of the ninth. Orel goes through his long and lanky motion as Henderson bears down. The pitch, a swing, connection, the ball goes flying! Over the infield, over the stretch of center field, over the… clothes line? As everyone in my neighborhood knew, over the clothes line was a home-run. So was the roof of the house in right field, and the tree in left. My dodger-fan brother threw his glove at me as I gave the bases a celebratory trot. I had just hit the go-ahead home run putting the A’s (my team), over the Dodgers (my brothers team) in the back-yard World Series. The game was over and we went inside to rest. After all, it was dinner time and the Blazers and Sonics had a basketball game in my driveway the next morning. We were also the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, U.S. National Soccer team, and the Oregon State Beavers. We would even moonlight as GI Joe, Indiana Jones, and a host of other characters we just plain made up. Outside in the rain of the Pacific Northwest we would build forts, climb trees, dig holes, and have dirt clod wars. The rain never drowned us and the mud never “dirtied us to death.” Without a plethora of technology, virtual reality, and over-organized athletics, our minds had the opportunity to imagine.
Sadly, I see imagination is something that is dying in today’s youth. With technology, athletic regimentation, and a growing number of unsafe outdoor “playscape,” kids don’t have the opportunity to use their creative thought process to experience the world around them. Even cartoons have lost their “silly” edge. Non-sanctioned sporting events now only take place on video games, instead of back-yards. “Muddy and Wet” has apparently replaced “Sloth and Gluttony” as two of the seven deadly sins in our society. I’m not saying that imaginative play never happens anymore, but it is not the cornerstone of youth culture that it used to be.
The ability to use one’s imagination and creativity is an essential tool in athletic and life success. Some of the most successful athletes and professionals in the world are tremendous visionaries. They imagine the impossible and conquering it. If our youth do not have the opportunity to develop this attribute, what will their future bring? Will America’s future work force have the ability to image, solve problems, and re-define realities? Will they be able to maintain their athletic talent and innovation when the only time a youngster competes at a sport is under the watchful, assessing eye of a coach? For example, the U.S. wants to know why we can’t compete more respectably at the international level in soccer. When was the last time you saw a group of kids playing a pick-up soccer game?
Imagination is developed in the “out of bounds” area. It’s dirty, muddy, and it’s outside the lines. Imagination sees things that aren’t there, but COULD be there. It takes practice though. Our childhood is the easiest and most socially acceptable time to practice! We have to realize, however, that the modern world does not facilitate imagination the way it used to. We have to take it upon ourselves as mentors to help develop this once innate ability. We remember what it was like when we were kids and share this experience! In my work with kids, every once in a while we will go on an imaginary adventure. We find treasures, slay monsters, play in the World Series, and invent new games. The entire time they’re running, jumping, skipping, crawling, climbing, solving problems, and improving their physical and mental fitness. Yes, I’m a strength and conditioning coach, but I’m not “too cool.” I truly believe my imagination has given me the edge to accomplish many things in my career.
Take the opportunity to turn the T.V. off and go outside with your kids. Re-create a sport like you used to when you were a kid. Show them games you used to play when you had to occupy time. When your kids say they’re bored, let them entertain themselves. If I ever had the audacity to tell my parents I was bored, I would be handed a load of laundry, a lawnmower, or other “cures” for boredom. Surprisingly, to this day, I have never been “bored.” Make sure your young athlete has opportunities to play their sport without the stress of an organized situation. Organized athletic development is important in creating athletic success, but so is being allowed the freedom to create, fail, and succeed.
If we can help our kids re-capture their ability to imagine and create, our nation’s future is one of health, wealth, and success. Imagine that!
Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. In addition to coaching, Brett currently authors for a variety of publications, produces DVD’s on fitness and athletic performance and presents around the world on topics in fitness, wellness, and sports performance. Brett can be reached at // email@example.com
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