There are some things which are best explained by the look in someone’s eyes or by the smile on their face or the emotion expressed through their body.
Those are the forms of communication we often miss in our daily dealings with those around us, but they were undeniable in the interactions between the volunteers of the Shinning Stars Adaptive Tennis Program and the children at Summit Educational Resources.
The program (a subject of an upcoming story in The Buffalo News) teaches tennis to children with autism.
A simple concept, but one fraught with challenges. Children with disorders that fall into autism spectrum have difficulty with communication, social skills and behavior to varying degrees. And teaching them anything, let alone a game like tennis which can frustrate athletically gifted adults, can be a trying experience.
Yet, as the kids came to the low net, rackets in hand and soft-sided tennis balls tossed their way, they hit forehands, backhands and volleys. Some went all over the gym. Others, well, were much better than I could hope to do even with hours of intense one-on-one coaching.
But what struck me most was that at heart these were kids just like any other kids learning and benefitting from playing sports.
This, of course, should not be a shocker. Kids, after all, are kids and have the same issues with concentration and communication and socialization regardless of whether they’re identified as part of a special needs population.
But we tend to make the sports experience more complicated than it needs to be. Yes, there are travel leagues and elite teams and chances for children to excel, standout and win. Then there are the leagues where everybody plays.
There is nothing wrong with working toward achievement and winning.
But how do you define winning? Is it only on the scoreboard? Is it in learning a new skill? Is it in being physically active, which we know helps not only the health of the body but also the mind and spirit? Is it having fun?
As a society, we’ve begun to accept that the same intangibles that benefit boys from playing sports also apply to girls.
The same should be true for those in other populations where the challenges may be a bit more obvious, and on the surface a bit more daunting.
The same should be true regardless of age. Or creed, Or gender. Or ability.
Athletics can do more than just help with the easily identifiable traits like concentration and socialization. Sport also has a healing power – one that begins individually and can extend and transcend groups of people.
It’s something so potentially powerful that at times we try to hold on to it too closely. But once we share it, we notice that we haven’t diminished anything – only increased our own joy and power at the same time.