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How to Revive the Sandlot? --Bribery!

August 19, 2011


Unstructured quality play is missing from kids lives today. As is unsegregated socializing -- that is, playing with neighborhood kids, those who are accidentally around us, not hand-picked.

How to change this and get the kids actively mashed together again?

Pay 'em!

(It'll still be a lot cheaper than paying for any organized activity, that's for sure.)

What is required?

...A field or forest within safe walking or biking distance of your kids.

...Other kids.

Also, your kids should be old enough and savvy enough to be on their own for an hour or two.

But nowadays this is probably not enough. Your kids might be different, but for some/many the idea of playing with kids who aren't their favorites might be anathema. Also, the idea of unstructured play might be labeled as "lame."

So bribe 'em! Pay 'em $1 for each new kid and a $1 for each game they play. Then kick 'em outta the house.

So what if kids are mostly booked-up these days. There has to be some downtime somewhere, especially in summer. Or late summer, like now. Summer programs/teams are over but school/travel programs haven't started yet. There might be a slender window in there for adult-less creativity! Jump on it!

One ploy might be to remind them that there won't be any meddling grownups around. That should boost the cool factor.


If a park or field is within a mile, then a posse of kids could get together and in a mere hour or two play a game each of unsupervised soccer, football, and softball. Whoever is "elite coach trained" in one might not be so hot in the others. They can even add hide'n'seek to the mix, why not. Bring a frisbee for some Ultimate. Bring some fighting-kites. Bring bikes if there are trails -- pay 'em $1 per lap. Run the trails, too -- another $1 per lap. They could easily do all that in an hour or two.

If they say they don't like certain kids in the vicinity, just remind them that sports don't require liking just that a kid know the game. Remind them that they don't actually have to stand too close to the others. If you need a catcher to make up a team and there's a kid nearby with a glove it doesn't matter who the kid is. Give everyone a chance. Ya never know who will measure up. And anyone can have a bad day, even a good friend. The basic rule is if someone can't abide the rules then they can't play. Remind them that the "liking" and best friends stuff is for one on one play, going to each other's house, sleepovers and such. When it's a free-for-all anyone will do.

I've been reminded, in an misguided attempt to inject "reason" into my scheming, that I don't play with every adult in the neighborhood, so why should our kids. -- Thus confirming to them that the idea of neighborhood kid play is stupid. The obvious explanation is again what I already said: Not just everyone is your best pal, but when I used to play pickup basketball -- as an adult -- it didn't matter who anyone was. If you were there, you rotated in. It was fun, free, energetic, and you got to know folks a little bit. So there! ...But I think that kids only hear and remember it when adults mention the "path of least resistance" or when they support the status quo.

Don't forget to mention the possibility of a tree fort and point to the bike trailer and the pile of old lumber -- but don't put too fine a point on it. Let 'em sneak off to do it.

When it comes time to tally the bribes just round it to something reasonable and change the subject and hand 'em a pile of quarters. Or pre-calculate the amounts so it'll end up as something reasonable, depending on their gumption.

The need for the bribe should disappear after the first outing. The ball will be rolling.

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