When I played as a kid, getting out was assumed, at least for me. When I started working with children, cooperative games became the focus. I understand the benefits of noncompetitive cooperative games (heck, I teach workshops about them), and last night, I was also reminded of the incredible benefits of getting out.
My seven-year-old son Braden had a Cub Scouts Pack meeting last night. There were about 35 boys present, ages 6-10. The activity for the evening was basketball. We started with 4 stations; at one station the boys played H-O-R-S-E.
I won’t go into detail about how to play HORSE. If you aren’t familiar, look it up. The main point for this post is that in the game of HORSE, you get out after missing 5 shots (one for each letter in the word HORSE). Like his dad, Braden isn’t basketball star. Even though there are public hoops that we can see from our house, we’ve never gone over to practice our jump shots. Given my lack of fatherly encouragement and coaching, I wasn’t surprised when most of the B-mans shots sailed under, over, beside and past the hoop without touching it.
The other Tiger Cubs weren’t much better, so he didn’t show too much disappointment in his performance until he got out. Now, there are many different ways I could have handled this. I’ve seen many different techniques used to “soften the blow” of getting out in a game. Here are some of the most common.
- Don’t keep track. In this one, you play HORSE, but don’t keep track of the letters. Nobody gets out.
- Keep track, but let the players continue to shoot after they get out. Their shots don’t count, but they aren’t “left out.”
- Pick a different word. Instead of HORSE, go through the entire alphabet. Then people usually get tired of playing before anyone gets out.
Since it was my own son I was dealing with, I didn’t choose any of those. After he missed his 5th shot, I told him he was out. He looked at me with a nervous question mark on his face as if to say: What does that mean? I said, “You missed 5 shots, so you’re out of the game.“
I knew this would be hard for him to deal with. It was his first Pack Meeting. He was playing with boys that he barely knew. He hadn’t made any shots, and now he was the first one out. He was embarrassed, and Dad wasn’t helping. Tears came to his eyes. His lips quivered, and he made them tight and sucked them in to keep his emotion from showing. He didn’t want to cry in front of the other boys, so he scooted up to me and stood stiff as a board with his face tucked between my arm and my body.
I let him stand there for a few seconds and squeezed his shoulder. Then I said, “I know it’s disappointing. I used to get out every time when I played horse.” After another few seconds I let him in on they key to getting out gracefully. I leaned down so I could see his face and said, “One of the best things you can do right now is to give one of the other guys a compliment. It will make you feel better. When you’re ready, go over there and do it.” It took him about two seconds to blink away the tears and turn back to the group. As he called out, “Nice shot, Ben!” he ran back over with a smile enjoyed the rest of the activity.
For boys, the art of getting out is learning that there’s no shame in it. It’s not a rejection; it’s part of the game.
Tips for helping boys get out with style:
- Give compliments. When you compliment the play of others, you’re always in the game.
- Welcome others. More players will get out. Welcome them with a high five (or whatever is cool now) and say something like, “Nice try” or “Close one.”
- Make a plan. Think about what you will try different next time. Watch how the other players are keeping themselves in the game.
- Try again. Learning from mistakes and failures is fun, challenging, and the key to success.