My eldest two children both began playing organized sports just this year. Previously they had been playing soccer with a neighbourhood group and a variety of sports at a gym day that I run on Friday mornings throughout the winter. In both of those situations, they play with a wide range of skills and ages, from small children to adults.
The games are more or less competitive, and they are on a different team every week. There are also different rules for players with different levels of skill, where we look the other way at the occasional handball by a small child and permit the adults to score only with a header.
There are several benefits to this approach. First, nobody ever gets stuck on a team that loses every game or is allowed to be on a team that wins every game, so the kids get a sense of what it means to win and lose with good grace. Second, because an opponent one week will likely be a teammate the next week, there is no reason to build animosity between players and teams, so the kids learn to play hard for their team without the silly idea that these teams mean anything at all outside the game. Third, the age range almost ensures that kids will be playing with others who are both more and less skilled than they are, and so they can learn from older teammates and teach younger ones.
Now that we’re playing organized sports as well, however, we have had to endure a summer of soccer where we won almost every game and had egos swelling out of all proportion and a fall of basketball where we lost almost every game and had egos crushed in the process. We have had arguments and name-calling between teams, jealousy over who gets named MVP, and all manner of silliness that should have little or nothing to do with playing hard, winning with grace, and losing with dignity.
I’m really starting to appreciate our pick-up games.