By Kevin Cook
The race occurred when I was 8 years old. It took place in a field at church camp. My best friend, Bryan, and I went to Boys Camp for a week every summer. Camp was filled with sports, crafts, games, cafeteria food and, of course, the Snack Shack. In 1969, our cabin counselor was Mr. York. At that time, he was a college ministerial student and since has had a long career in the ministry as a Chaplin and Pastor. On this day, it seemed the camp directors ran out of activities and needed to create something to spend off the energy of 150 rambunctious boys. Someone had the idea of a foot race. They lined us all up along a fence row, explained the prize would be a free snack and pop at the Snack Shack, then pointed to the string across the field. To the victor would go the spoils. I was in the middle of the line of boys and therefore had the technical advantage of the shortest distance to run.
While at that age I did not understand the shortest distance concept, I knew that I would have better traction and less weight to carry if I was barefoot, so I discarded my tennis shoes. When the signal was given, we all lunged forward in an epic little boy press. We went shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride for the first few seconds. I saw nothing of Bryan or the other runners, only that finish line. By the halfway mark, I realized there was nothing between me and the goal, not another runner. I dared not turn around for fear I would stumble and fall. I gave my all, changing the shape of my fists into blades to cut the wind before it hit my body and slowed my progress. Ahead, I saw the finish line. I crossed the line in joy and disbelief and did what all champions do…I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by too much emotion, too much energy, too much joy for an 8-year-old without the tools to know how to manage it. Faithful counselor York came to my aid, providing a buffer while I wiped the tears and promptly escorted me to the Snack Shack.
Fifty-two years ago, as a little boy, I won a foot race. It surfaces today as I consider the importance of sports, games, and athletics for children in our education, camp, and day camp experiences.
“Not just fun and games” is more than a clever title. It is a declaration, a stake in the ground, even a battle cry to make sure the value of sports and play are not washed away by a world of technology or academic testing pressures.
Here is why it matters:
EVERY CHILD NEEDS “HIGH-FIVE” MOMENTS
High-fiv1. e moments instill confidence. Winning a race, making a hit, and getting on base, sinking a foul shot, or making a great pass all fuel the fire of “I can do it” in the mind, heart, and psyche of a young athlete. Learning to pointe on ballet shoes, walk a balance beam or do a chin-up does the same. The pursuit is irrelevant. The achievement is what matters.
The moment the realization of accomplishment sets in is the moment the young person grows a notch in self-awareness, self-esteem, assuredness, and confidence. These growth moments in younger years are the strong foundations for faith, strength, and leadership as adults. Personal achievements in early days help young people learn it is okay to work hard, okay to recognize the results of the work and okay to feel good about using God’s gifts to do something.
EVERY CHILD NEEDS THE LESSON OF GIVING THEIR BEST
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion declares that “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…” The same is true with drive, determination, and unrestrained effort. A young person who learns early that performing well, meeting goals, and achieving targets (whether it is improving a golf score or breaking a personal record of any kind) happens because of hard work, diligence, and a strong dose of unrestrained effort. We have all known people or seen people who, by the force of their will combined with hard work and unrestrained effort, achieved something meaningful, sometimes timeless, sometimes great.
Sports provide a platform for diligence, hard work and unrestrained effort to be on full display. This does not always mean a blue ribbon or a trophy, but it almost always means improvement, progress, and growth for the participant. Individuals who practice unrestrained effort in one aspect of their lives have the pathways mapped out to practice unrestrained effort in other aspects of their lives. Once the fruit of unrestrained effort is experienced, the seeds can be sown again.
WE MENTOR THROUGH SPORTS AND PLAY
A mentoring moment can have a lasting impact. From that moment, many decades ago, my path crossed the path of Camp Counselor York only briefly one time. Other than that singular crossing, we have not had ongoing contact and communication. Nonetheless, I have not forgotten his encouragement and support for me before, during, and after that simple foot race. Without saying anything profound, he fulfilled the role as a “grandstand person” for me on that day. In doing so, he taught me something about grace in action that remains with me even now.
Through coaching in sports, moments present themselves that provide windows for far reaching lessons and values. Thank you to every coach, counselor, and teacher. And a special thank you to Pastor York.
Kevin Cook is the vice president for business development with Americana Outdoor. Through its brands LA Steelcraft and PW Sport & Site, Americana Outdoors encourages all types of athletic pursuits, www.Americana.com.