On the drive home today it was mentioned on the radio that there is a push to ban certain school years games like tag and dodgeball. The idea is that these games can often turn into bullying or picking on the slower or less athletic kids.

To a certain extent that is true. With the wrong group of kids and the wrong group mentality this can definitely happen and result in some bullying behaviour.

However, the same could be said for pretty much any competitive activity. At what point do we stop removing games, or should we even try to remove them at all?

I teach kids martial arts… now there is a opening for bad behaviour. We teach kids to physically control each other, to squash them, immobilize them and put them in very unpleasant situations. (And obviously to get out of those positions as well)

It would be very easy for an experienced kid to make life miserable for a smaller, newer student… But, it generally doesn’t happen. Why is that?

At our camps, events and even in class as the occasional warm up we use games like tag and dodgeball… but this doesn’t happen. Why is that?

I don’t think the problem is with the games. The games themselves are fine, the problem is a lack of sportsmanship, and a lack of teaching kids to be leaders and take care of each other.

In fact I think the best way to create leaders and teach sportsmanship is in games where there is the potential for things to go the other way. We can’t teach a kid to make a good decision in a game unless they have the opportunity to make either a good one or a bad one.

We also need to teach them the difference between a game and a competition. Games might be competitive, but they also need to remain fun, and in the end the outcome isn’t really the most important thing.

Removing games like tag and dodgeball is not something I think will solve the problem, the problem is the mindset of the kids involved. Sometimes I think adults try too hard to shelter kids from adversity, when instead we should be teaching them to embrace it and support others.

In a healthy group of kids with a good mindset when the slower kid gets tagged someone will allow themselves to be tagged and go after someone else, it’s a game, and everyone has fun. They self balance their skill levels to some degree. In an unhealthy group it becomes a game of tease the slowest and keep them “it”.

In the martial arts we would never put up with a kid that acted in that manner with training partners. In fact the problem would be far more pronounced. But part of what makes them confident leaders as they progress is that they have that ability, and choose to help each other rather then hurt each other.

So I’d vote to keep the games, but change the mindset. Bring the ideas of sportsmanship and leadership into the games and classrooms, otherwise it’s just a band aid solution.