Golf or Football for Children?
Put the “Ah” in Childhood
I was heartened by a comment made by Iron Mike Ditka this week. Ditka was and is one of the toughest men who ever played the game of American football, and there’s not a whit of hyperbole in that statement, Ditak can face facts, though, just as well as anyone else,and he has suggested that although he would not discourage children from playing contact sports, it might be a good idea for them to consider golf as a childhood pastime.
My recollection of childhood says that we stayed outside for the bulk of the day and evening, whenever possible. We’d move from two hours of football, to an hour or two of baseball, a bit of soccer, a period of general mayhem on bicycles or on foot, and golf. Sometimes it was at the course, but just as often in a vast park ripe for designing a lengthy course.
We can, of course, hurt ourselves playing golf. More often, it’s a gradual thing that follows endless repetition. True, in youth, we tend to swing too hard, are preoccupied with distance, and can play 36 in a day without falling over in a dead faint. Football injuries, on the other hand, can be sudden and severe, requiring recoup time. Unless a medical opinion is sought out, kids can continue to play when they shouldn’t. The spirit of collision is ever-present in such a sport, and the requirement that one physically overpower an opponent on the other side of the line. In golf, the score is competitive, but otherwise, we play against the game itself, with other people present. Golfers don’t go for it on 4th and 1, blitz the quarterback or dogpile on a kickoff return man.
Football has rules that are increasingly modified to prevent injury, but blood-thirstiness remains. In golf, the sanguine relationship to a fellow player is mostly, preferably all mental. I am a rabid football fan, but in childhood, some alternate messages are needed at an age in which speed, power and comparative strength are the overriding factors.
If anyone needs a game to slow down the pace, it’s children. The game makes us wait, and think through the possibilities before lining it up again. That wait involves a walk from the tee to one or two hundred yards out. More good life lesson material is learned during that walk than in any classroom. Childhood doesn’t like to wait, but it’s a good time to learn that we have to.
It teaches us that there’s a time to be quiet, not really a standout point for football. It is difficult for those in childhood to be meditative and silent. Similarly, it is a self-absorbed time, but golf makes us wait off to the side of the tee to see how our colleagues do. It may not make us wish them well, but it at least makes us watch. Childhood likes to run, but golf makes us walk. It makes us line up a putt, and go to school on other putts from around the green. It makes us be precise, and whether or not we turn out to be honest, the game of golf demands the same sort of etiquette that being out in civilized society demands..
The olfactory, tactile, and visual sensations of football, baseball, soccer, etc., can excite a young athlete in a big way, bringing up the passion that only adrenaline can produce. In golf, we fight the effects of adrenaline to keep ourselves calm – no way I could that in childhood. It makes us conquer our tempers, defy our urge to swing fast or early. It dares us to produce smoothness instead of collision, and it encourages us to refrain from bellowing and throwing things when it doesn’t go well. It teaches us the art of recovery, which is what all great golfers master in a higher way.
I’m so many decades too old to run out for a football, but if someone throws one, I have an Australian Shepherd’s response, transform into an old idiot, and bolt for it. If I’m ever in a wheelchair, I’m sure l’ll do the same thing. On the golf course, though, a good drive, fairway shot, approach or putt can do something just as good – successful golf shots create the “aaaahhhh.” “Aaaahhhh” is very important in life, and there’s no time like childhood to learn how to get it.