Today's Youth: From Back Lots to Black Ops, Times Have Changed

J. Allen StatonCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2011

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 09: Local children play football in the Khayelitsha Township on June 9, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Remember when you couldn't wait to get home to change into your 'play clothes' and meet the guys outside after school?

Everybody had to stand around talking about how much they hated Mrs. Jackson until everybody got there, but once enough guys showed up, the teams would be chosen, and the games would start.

Football, soccer, baseball, basketball, whatever. Didn't really matter most of the time as long as we were out there, together, havin' a good time.

If too many people were grounded, doing homework, out of town or just unaccounted for, we'd just turn to the old stand-bys. Hide and Seek, kick the can, smear the queer, (if you're offended by that, too bad—I didn't name it, I just loved playin' it).

From the time we got home, until the street lights came on, unless we heard the dreaded screech from our mother from the front porch, we'd be outside playing. Forming lasting relationships, creating memories, building character.

Not that we KNEW that's what we were doing, but nonetheless, it was happening.

In the process, we got skinned knees, broken arms, poison ivy and dog bites. We learned to play with lizards, catch fire flies, skip rocks and climb trees. We learned that just because it's raining doesn't mean the game stops. We learned that if you follow the creek far enough, you'll find a spot where you can swim.

Bike races, cops and robbers, building a ramp and the easiest way to turn your bike upside down to get your chain back on the sprocket.

Now I know this all sounds like good-ol-days syndrome, but isn't there something to be said for all that we learned by being outside and playing sports with the other guys? Isn't there a LOT to be said for that?

I have two boys, and I decided when the first one was too little to sit and watch a football game with me that I would not try and push my love of sports onto my boys.

If they chose to get into sports like dear old dad, then it would be a very natural thing, and quite honestly, that's what I fully expected to happen.

I could not have been more wrong.

Of course, there's no way I could have anticipated the advent of Facebook, iPod, iTunes, PS3, Xbox, texting or even the Internet.

Today, boys throw like girls, run with the fluidity of a newborn calf, couldn't tell you which bugs are safe to pick up and think they have to be inside, should the temperature approach a level that may result in them perspiring.  God forbid they should sweat, the poor little things.

The complete and total "wussification of America" began right in my house, and I didn't even realize it. I officially apologize. Please forgive me Lord, I knew not what I was doing.

I can't stand the fact that there are entire children's leagues that have organized games, charge a league fee, have uniforms, coaches, refs, the whole nine yards—and don't even keep score! Are you kidding me?!

Okay, I got somewhat off track there, but that's kind of an off-shoot of this as well.

But overall, what I'm trying to say is that our boys are no longer boys as we've come to know them. The line between "boy" and "girl" has begun to close.

Some may say that's a good thing, but to those I would respectfully say that you are, in all fairness, probably damaged in some way that I could never understand, and I wish you would keep your idiotic, uninformed, "let's all sing cumbaya" opinions to yourself—and I hate you.

Our boys are not athletes anymore. Oh, some are of course, but when's the last time you saw boys playing football in an empty lot?

Remember when you heard the kids in the neighborhood yell out "car's comin'!" so they could clear the street long enough for the car to pass before falling right back in behind it and resuming the game?

It doesn't happen anymore.

Professional athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and just as manly as they always have been, and you can say the same for college, and I don't know whether or not that's gonna change, but I suspect we won't see it so much on that level.

I think the superior athletes will still find a way to track down a game, a team or a league. They'll still rise above all the others and continue, as they always have, to be leaders of the pack.

Where we see the impact is in the regular, everyday kid. The one who was never in the top two or three to be chosen, but wasn't last either. Let's face it, only the select few were chosen first or second every time. The rest just fell into place depending on who was doing the choosing that day. 

They weren't the fastest, or the biggest, but they played just as hard, and were just as dirty, and had just as much fun as the one picked first. Without them, there would have been no game. Without US, there would have been no game because I most assuredly am one of them.

So, in all likelihood, were you—but sadly there are no more games being played in the neighbor's yard anymore, and I think that's a bad thing. I think the boys of today are missing out on more than I could list here: Competition, camaraderie, athleticism, leadership, sportsmanship, morals, work ethic.

Something people have forgotten is that learning how to lose is one of the most important things kids can learn. Before you learn how to win, you have to learn how to lose. If kids are left to their own devices, and group together and interact together, they all learn how to lose.

How else can you learn that hard work, persistence and effort are valuable assets?

You learn in real world settings how it feels to beat the guy that has beaten you five times in a row. You learn how it feels to finally hit that shot that you've never been able to make. You learn how it feels to score the game-winning touchdown just as it's getting dark and everybody has to go home.

Nah, today we just hand out trophies to everyone on every team, and make sure every kid knows he's a winner. We let them learn how to play sports on Wii. We let them do it "virtually."

The world was a better place when kids actually lost and needed mom's hug when they got home. Don't you think?