By Charles F. Smith
The Leadership of Games and Recreations
Considerable space might be devoted to the discussion of personal qualities to be desired in play leaders, but it seems more helpful to consider the qualities of a successful play leader as they express themselves by what he does.
Be Enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious. The successful game leader must spontaneously enjoy his work of leading quite as much as the player enjoys playing. In other words, leading must be carried out in the spirit of play. The person who leads play only occasionally should make it apparent to the players that he too is enjoying the game. The players will catch this enthusiasm; but they cannot catch it unless it is present.
Develop a Sense of Humor. Play and recreation leaders should show the individuals with whom they work that they are perfectly human. Observe the way in which the experienced leader of social recreation explains a game and compare it with that of a dictatorial leader. Why, the fun begins as soon as the former starts his explanation. You catch the spirit of the game; you enter the game with the attitude of mind desired and stimulated by the leader. This type of leader inspires you with the proverbial "Let's go" idea, while the dictator creates a tense atmosphere with the militant "You must."
Overlook Mistakes. The leader with sympathetic understanding overlooks mistakes and recognizes that it is better to laugh with people than at them. Technical mistakes should not be taken seriously. The person who makes the mistake invariably feels worse for having erred than any one else. If he blunders due to lack of skill, the leader should help him to develop the necessary skill. Every one who participates in athletics appreciates the coach who subtly points out errors in a general way rather than one who constantly finds fault with the individual members of the team.
Anticipate Blunders. Previous experience will enable a leader to anticipate common blunders and to check them without interrupting the game. For example, having conducted a certain figure march a number of times. he has noted that there is a tendency for individuals to march in the wrong direction, therefore, when arriving at that place, he stops the entire group and repeats the instructions, and in an amusing way tells what may happen to any one who marches in the wrong direction.
In the more serious matter of petty cheating, which is disguised in nearly all play under the term, poor sportsmanship, the leader must exercise much more diplomacy than in handling physical blunders. Individual reprimands are warranted only when the act in question threatens the moral growth of the entire group.
Be Lenient. The happy play leader, in contradistinction to the nagger, develops a wholesome attitude of mind regarding exactness and technique of play. Who wants to "walk the chalk line" at all times when playing for fun? To be sure, the athletic coach strives to develop exactness, but even under these conditions, think of the great difference of opinion as to what constitutes correct form. This must not be construed to encourage or suggest a laxity of interpretation of rules, as the rules should be followed with indisputable exactness.
Develop Confidence Through Preparedness. Confidence is acquired through experience, but even the experienced leader enjoys such confidence only when he is thoroughly prepared to do the particular work at hand. Having visualized each successive step of progress, he is able to concentrate upon what is taking place before him. Unhampered by the question, ever recurring to the novice, "What shall I do now," he is able to judge the value and effect of the game and gauge the proper time to stop it. He sees ways for improving both the game and his leadership and is able to say the right thing at the right time, in order to create either the desired moral effect or happy morale. It might be well at this point to remind the novice that the players are not to be deceived as to the preparedness of their leader, and the way to win respect is to be prepared, even refer to notes if necessary.
Guard Against Overconfidence. On the other hand, we sometimes meet the leader who unwittingly gives the impression that he knows it all. The attitude he assumes makes it impracticable for him to invite suggestions as to new ways of playing old games or to draw assistants into his confidence in the making or executing of his plans. Far be it from his sense of dignity to admit that he makes mistakes , but his assistants and the class all too well appreciate the exact state of affairs. He fails to inspire their confidence, encourage initiative, develop originality, or arouse imagination. Does whole-hearted fellowship prevail when the leader fails in these respects?
Conquer Trying Situations. In order to bridge over trying moments, it is suggested to leaders that they make every effort to maintain poise, striving always at least to appear at ease when vexatious situations arise. This advice, perhaps, is easier given than followed, but for the comfort and happiness of both leaders and players, it is well worth the effort required. When differences of opinion arise the leader might better spar for time than to act hastily and become irritable and excited. Avoid petty squabbles.
Adopt a Positive Attitude. First, last, and always, the primary function of a leader is to lead. Good leadership leaves no room for any half-way position. While out in front, the leader cannot give up his leadership and remain a leader any more than he can truly lead while there is doubt in the players' minds as to who is leading. Have you ever watched a game where there is two or three leaders? If you have, you know that such division of authority suffers the inevitable chaos of a "house divided against itself" and results in a would-be leader, who "cannot stand." To be sure, the leader may step down and allow one of the players to take his place, in which event the new leader should assume all the responsibility he can carry. In other words, the leader, whoever he may be, "takes command." This positive type of leader should not be confused in any way with the dictatorial athletic coach of by-gone days, who felt it his duty to inspire fear in order to maintain control. The modern executive type of leader leads in such a manner that an on-looker might tell you, "He seems to be one of the group," and yet he leads.
Lead Just Enough. The foregoing may provoke the query, "Under the direction of this leader, who never forgets to lead, what is going to happen to the initiative of the players, which we have set out to stimulate and encourage?" Good! This brings us ,to the crux of the situation. Lead just enough to set the pattern without crushing the initiative of the players. Occasionally turn the leadership over to one of the boys or girls and observe their choice ice of games and procedure. Children need such training since they do the largest part of their playing among themselves without adult leadership.
Expect the Best. A leader gets from his group the best it can give only when he expects the best and strives for it. One group's best may be attained with little effort by another group. A well-known educational philosophy may be stated in play terms: Teach people to play desirable types of games that they are going to play anyway, and while doing this, make higher types desired and, to an extent, possible.
Games of skill beneath the playing ability of a group should be practiced only for good reasons. Observing play leaders with children, we sometimes wonder why they do not teach higher types of games. When these leaders explain their choice of games by saying, "Well the children like these games," we should like to ask, "Have you taught them similar games of a higher type?" The modern play leader chooses recreational activities founded upon the soundest principles of education. Such activities should be enjoyable, purposeful, and worth while, with health, courtesy, good sportsmanship, and fair play following as by-products.
The youngsters may be oblivious to the existence or importance of these by-products as factors in their education, but the leader should never lose sight of these objectives which are of primary importance in influencing character.
Discipline Positively. Watch a successful play leader in action and note that he has no serious problems of discipline. As a cheery suggester rather than a dominating director, he uses methods that are neither too formal nor too lax. When problems arise our first tendency is to blame the other fellow, but if we ask ourselves first, "Is there anything wrong with my leadership?" second, "Is the author to blame for suggesting such a game?" and finally, "Is anything wrong with the players," we must admit that the players are usually doing their best.
When children find pleasure in tormenting or disobeying, the leader should try to discover his own deficiencies. Usually players have well founded reasons for unusual conduct or lack of cooperation. A successful leader can secure attention by merely asking for it and refusing to talk until he gets it. He makes the group feel that the individual annoying the leader is transgressing against the group rather than against the leader.
Change Plans. While many executives have adopted and successfully followed the slogan, Plan your work and work your plan, the leader of play finds himself obliged to reinforce his preparation with a resourcefulness which will enable him to depart from this executive principle to meet the varying demands of unforeseen physical, psychological, and moral conditions. To command sufficient resourcefulness to put one at ease under trying conditions, the leader must have a repertoire extensive enough to include a great variety of play and games. Only with such preparation can a program be arranged with an elasticity that will permit of changes to meet either actual or proverbial rainy days. So, we modify the slogan for play leaders to read: Plan your work and work your plan, if you can.
Provide "Re-Creation," Avoid "Wreck-Creation." The physical well-being and happiness of the people in a leader's charge should be his first consideration. Without proper precaution his work may become a process of tearing down instead of building up. No one should play to the point of exhaustion. When working with children it must be recognized that organized play is much more intensive than free play in which boys and girls come and go, and start and stop as much as they please. Observe a group of children playing by themselves and notice the way they naturally protect themselves from physical fatigue by taking time out for such social activity as planning, judging, and arguing. Adjust activities to the strength, endurance, and the various abilities of the participants, recognizing that what may be recreation for one group may be physical strain for another. Recreation followed by "the morning after" effects has been aptly called "wreck-creation."
Develop Athletic Girls. There is an ever growing tendency to concur with the theory of Joseph Lee, as laid down in Play in Education, page 392: "Every girl should play with boys and should be encouraged to be as much of a boy as possible. . . . In short, a girl should be a tomboy during the tomboy age (eight to thirteen), and the more of a tomboy she is, the better." No doubt most of us would agree if, for the old-fashioned word "tomboy," we were to substitute the term "athletic girl."
The acceptance of this theory indicates that authorities differentiate but little in suitable activities for boys and girls up to the approximate age of twelve, some, in fact, extend the period to fourteen years. It is possible, of course, to classify all games according to age and sex, but such procedure avails little and is rather impractical, due to the adaptability of many games, particularly social games, to all ages and both sexes.
Know Your People. A few examples make clear how important it is for a leader to know the natural tendencies and desires of age groups. For example, the experienced leader knows that the children of kindergarten age prefer free play, games having few rules and requiring little skill, much make-believe, considerable repetition, dialog, and a liberal amount of singsong.
Children of the lower grades prefer similar games requiring a little more skill. They are willing to abide by a few rules, but still prefer the individual type of game to team play. Next, the early adolescent group prefers the hunting, chasing, hiding, seeking type of rather individualistic game. These children are now ready to participate in simple team games. The matter of selecting games for the adolescent group is probably more serious than that of any other group.
The suggestion to adolescents that they play simple games is usually protested by them. Nevertheless, call an old game by a new name, a name that appeals to their newly acquired sense of dignity, and they will play the favorites of earlier years with slight variations. They regard themselves as young men and women and prefer team games of the vigorous athletic type. This fact came home to the author very forcibly when a high school boy criticized his school, saying in effect, "They don't even have games as good as we had in the Scouts. They treat us as though we were children." Further questioning revealed the fact that he was longing for organized athletics and even formal setting-up exercises, notwithstanding his high school was providing an excellent course in natural gymnastics and games.
The leader of social recreation who deals principally with adults fortunately encounters few difficulties in the selection of games. Adults play for recreation rather than to develop or show their skill, and will therefore play any game the leader may suggest, enjoying in particular games that provoke fun and laughter. This gives rise to the great difference we find in the attitude of the social recreational leader, who seldom takes himself seriously, and of the leader of high school groups, who very likely goes about his work in a businesslike way, much as if he were running a highly organized track meet.
Consider Outside Interests. The leader who wishes to make his work recreative, should take into account both the work and the play program of his people. A club leader should know the various types of recreation his members are enjoying. We hear so much about variety in play activities that some of us tend to overdo it. It is well to bear in mind that people like, in addition to variety, to do things they can do quite well. We get pleasure out of our successes. Though a club leader may play some of the games that his members already know and play elsewhere, he should not devote the major portion of his program to a repetition of activities that the members indulge in elsewhere.
The classroom teacher who plays physical games in the schoolroom should know the program of physical or health education used by the teacher of that subject. She should receive from such a person suggestions of games that will coordinate with the games used by the physical director during the gymnasium period. The playground leader who keeps advised regarding the games used at school can use the same games at the outset of a summer program and gradually introduce higher types.
Provide for All. Any leader, especially a club leader, who seldom conducts play, and then only for short periods, should avoid games in which losers drop out, for often the one who needs the play most is the very one to be out first, and vice versa. To illustrate, take the game of Dodge Ball. An unskillful person may be hit in the first play and then be required to remain on the side line for the balance of the game. The leader of any club that includes in its program only a limited amount of play should be careful in organizing relay teams to have but a few players on each team. Otherwise, members spend the greater part of short play periods standing in line waiting for turns. On the other hand, in long play programs, or if a club were playing active games for an entire evening, it would be advisable to use some of these very games in which losers drop out.
It should be comparatively easy for the person who has homogeneous groups to provide for whole-hearted participation by all, but it is often a problem for the person working with a mixed social group composed of individuals of all ages. While it is true that older folk, particularly parents, will spend a perfectly enjoyable evening by merely sitting and watching their children having a good time, the wise leader will provide a program that induces the older ones to get into the games. In choosing activities for such groups, games requiring so much skill that the youngsters "show up" the parents should be used sparingly.
Consider the Place. The author has observed many children who, under the direction of paid leaders, traveled miles from New York City to the suburbs. It was pitiful to watch some of them try to play only athletic games, when the woods called so loudly to the youngsters that it was extremely difficult for them to remain interested in any athletic game. It was interesting to compare these groups with others who left the. city behind and played the hunting, chasing, hiding, seeking type of game, along with treasure hunting, cooking, and fire building. The leader who has not had ample experience fails to appreciate the extent to which all of us enjoy woodsy types of play and recreation.
Nineteen Principles. The leader, particularly the professional leader of recreation, who arrives must be guided by sound principles to light the way. A search has failed to reveal any one collection of principles stated so clearly that they need no further elucidation than the nineteen set forth by Mr. Howard Braucher, Secretary of the National Recreation Association. They are most worthy of serious consideration by all students of recreation.
Every community needs a person, and an unpaid committee or board charged with thinking, planning, and working to provide opportunity for the best possible use of the leisure, hours of men, women, and children.
Community recreation programs should continue throughout the year.
Support of community recreation programs should be through tax funds under some department of the local government.
Every community needs playgrounds, parks, and recreation centers just as every city and town needs streets and sewers.
Every community should provide opportunity for its children when they leave school to continue the musical and dramatic and other specialized recreation activities which they have enjoyed during school days.
Community recreation programs should allow for a broad range of tastes and interests and varying degrees of mental and physical energy.
Every community needs persons trained to lead in recreation just as much as it needs persons trained in education.
Satisfying recreation, whether for the individual or for the community, involves careful planning.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.