WHAT MAKES A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?
The answer is not to be found on the pavement. Not even whether the pavement allows for access of the differently-able. Inclusion means more than mere access. The true level playing field facility must offer inclusion by means of Universal Design. Anybody and everybody should be able to participate simultaneously as in golf, bowling and Bankshot, the last specifically designed for that purpose. What else is required for leveling the playing field? Balance levels. That translates into providing sports and recreation facilities wherein there is no intrinsic advantage for participants by size, stature, speed, gender or age. That concept leads to equilibration: complement sports played against others – which exists in abundance - with sports played alongside others, that is "play without contest."
For full community participation at sports, recreation and leisure, communities must begin to balance aggressive sports with non-aggressive sports, competitive sports with those at which you compete with yourself not others as in the fore-mentioned golf, bowling and Bankshot. Ball playing sports receive the great majority of a community's space and budget. Soccer, baseball, basketball, football and tennis. But these are aggressive, fast moving and suitable for but a handful of similar age participants.
In recent studies in education, psychology and sociology it has been shown, as documented by Alfie Kohn in a book entitled "No Contest – the Case Against Competition" that "competition may be as American as apple pie but it is also poisoning Americans." It is justifiable to reexamine and critique competition in all our play. Kohn eloquently argues that "our struggle to defeat each other – at work, at school, at play and at home – turns all of us into losers."
He goes on to say that "The larger point is that anyone, regardless of self-esteem, can be shaken by loss. And apart from the actual number of times someone loses, losing is always possible and often anticipated. It is an inherent part of competition, and thus there is reason to think that competition is always psychologically damaging to some degree. But even this does not tell the whole story. Psychological health implies unconditionality – the conviction that one is a good person regardless of what happens. In competition, by contrast, one's self-esteem depends on the uncertain outcome of a contest, and this means that self-esteem is conditional. At best, one feels reassured and confirmed only sometimes. Since the idea is for self-esteem to exist without any strings attached, 'sometimes' defeats the whole purpose."
Our society is so rich in fields of play that replicate combat, winners and losers, and so bereft of those cultivating civility. Culture and civilization are kindred concepts so rarely invoked on our fields of play. We seek to defeat our "playmates," to beat, crush, intimidate. Is this good for society? Why not "strike" a balance in our world of sports and recreation? This balance would be best struck by providing recreation sports and play where participants play alongside one another, not against one another.
Bankshot, bowling and mini-golf, require participants to play alongside each other taking on the court, not each other. No one is sliding into your shins. No arms are waving in the participant's face by an "opponent." No one is determined to knock you over. Rather as at golf, adjust the swing; at bowling, correct the roll; and at Bankshot Basketball, the players acting together, "figure out the angles," and discuss the sweet spots for the trajectories of their shots while encouraging one another. They do so naturally and need no instructions not to foul one another. There is no participation in a contest against others but there is an abundance of self challenge, skill enhancement and increasing self satisfaction at play for each person, including the differently able, at his or her own skill-level on a level playfield in an activity proceeding through a challenging course alongside family and any population of friends and neighbors.
by Dr Reeve Brenner
The National Association for Recreational Equality
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"We played at the Bankshot today. All the children had a great time - not just the 'sporty' ones! The teachers were commenting how good it was that so many kids could play at the same time. Thanks!!"Helen Cordova