Family Sports Defined

By Dr. Reeve Robert Brenner - National Association for Recreational Equality (

The National Association for Recreational Equality offers this definition of what constitutes a family sport and which requirements must be met to qualify as a family sport:

1. Participants play self-competitively alongside one another not against others.

2. There is no offense or defense; there is no running, jumping or aggression.

3. Your "opponent" can show up tomorrow but there need be no "opponent."

4. Participants take on the sport's challenge regardless of the play of others.

5. Participants play to improve their skills not to defeat others.

6. Families are provided a "Total-Mix" accommodation based on Universal Design.

7. There is no body contact; size, strength, stamina, age and gender are irrelevant.

8. Wheelchair participants and the differently able join in at no disadvantage.

9. Families can drop in anytime without waiting for a program.

10. Individuals who are physically or cognitively challenged mainstream at any time. Let us narrow our definition. Communities allocate the greatest amount of funds and space for ball-playing sports: baseball, football, tennis, soccer, basketball, etc. None fits our definition. Participants play against, not alongside and fall short of all the rest. The fast moving ball playing games particularly body contact sports are exclusionary. Only a sliver of a population play. All others are spectators. Total mix includes every participant.

When I lecture around the country on behalf of THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR RECREATIONAL EQUALITY, only a few attendees have experienced Bankshot sports. I invariably ask my audience to name the ball-playing sports which, by the above 10 requirements or definitions, would qualify as family ball playing sports. Bowling and golf are named. Neither plays quite well from a wheelchair; and age, size and strength factors do not make for a level playing field but they are self-competitive without offense and defense. Sport comes from Sparta. There is nothing friendly or "alongside" about their activities.

The question is why so many sports built on Spartan ideology and so few family sports? At issue are the questions: why do so many aggressive even violent, fast moving and therefore exclusionary ball playing sports receive the space, funds and attention in our communities and in our children's schools and camps? Why do the exclusionary facilities precede the inclusionary facilities in our plans and priorities? A family ball playing sport must be based on Universal Design. Why is the concept, understood as inclusion, universally neglected and park affordances rarely universally designed?

The wheelchair user needs a ball playing facility to drop in for participate with others and not be marginalized; where he or she, like everyone else, can wait for next and play next as in "I also want to play a game. You, without a wheelchair, walk around the court, I roll around the court". As in, "I can play with you because we of the differently-able population won't be playing against, only alongside one another".

Where are the ball-playing family sports that are companionable, friendly, and non-aggressive? Why only fast moving sports so that a wheelchair user and other differently-able and mixed aged campers, schoolmates and families cannot also participate with everyone else? That is, without a program but on some bright and sunny day perfect for playing outdoors spontaneously with one's friends. Or on a rainy day, indoors at a family fun center or recreation center at a reasonable family outing cost or alongside a playground. Are fun centers and children's camps only for families with "able" kids? Why must the differently able and non-athletes always remain on the sidelines?

Spartans were not a friendly folk but then, are we on our playing fields more civilized? Aren't the sports we play combat? We "defeat" our "opponents" and "beat them" "crush them" and the like. Must that be the case in all our sports and in all instances? Where are the sports that are companionable and not combative? They do not exist - which is why we created and endorse what we identify as Bankshot Total-Mix Family Sports. The fundamental distinction is, accessibility is not inclusion. What's the point of access without inclusion? There is an abundance of the former, accessibility; little of the latter, inclusion. A family sport, particularly for the diversity of our society at parks, playgrounds children's schools and camps, must be inclusive. It is time to turn things around in opportunities for diverse families playing ball together. That's what brings a community together.

Dr. Reeve Brenner, The National Association for Recreational Equality, is the creator of Bankshot Family Sports, Total-Mix Sports based on Universal Design.