This is an excerpt from Junkyard Sports by Bernie DeKoven.
Junkyard Sports emphasizes fun and creativity, teamwork and leadership, inclusion and adaptability, compassion and acceptance, humor, playfulness, and community. The activities are designed not only to engage mind and body but also to help participants develop the arts of collaboration and effective team building, acquire leadership, and experience the power and practicality of using problem solving and the scientific method.
The term junkyard sports is a play on a very successful TV series called Junkyard Wars that was shown on the TLC network. Like junkyard sports, Junkyard Wars is a team effort, requiring ingenuity and collaboration in the use of found materials. The similarity stops there. Junkyard sports are not wars or even competitions, and the purpose is not to build machines but to build community. However, the connection is strong enough to capture the spirit of this unique focus on sports.
Junkyard Sports is a collection of physical activities. Like most books of this genre, it is intended for use by recreation planners, youth leaders, and physical educators as a resource for new activities that can be implemented easily, with minimal preparation, and with high probability of success. Unlike most of these books, Junkyard Sports is not a collection of sports but a collection of activities that lead to the creation of sports. These sports are not necessarily for a particular age or ability level but for homogeneous or diverse groups of children and adults with a range of physical abilities and limitations.
Most game collections require a dependence on the inventiveness of others. Junkyard sports foster interdependence. Games in collections have to be adapted or modified for different populations. Junkyard sports are created by the populations who play them—by the players, for the players. As valuable as collections of cooperative and alternative sports are for the physical educator and the recreational or youth leader who must respond to the needs of various populations, there are never enough games, no matter how large or esoteric the collection. It is taxing to have to learn and teach a new sport, taxing again to have to find more and newer sports, and especially taxing to discover that these sports are really not enough. By themselves, they may be fun or meet certain objectives. But they rarely engage the spirit of playfulness, empower all of the players, stimulate creativity, or lead to the development of newer sports.
Junkyard Sports gives physical educators and recreation and youth leaders a rich, exciting, and growing resource for physical activities that will work in any environment, with any population. This book makes it easy for people to initiate completely new activities for any audience in five minutes or less.
This book is designed to give the reader starting points, or demonstration games, rather than instructions for playing specific sports. The bulk of the book is taken up by part two, “The Junkmasters’ Guide,” a collection of ideas for new, fun, and challenging invitations to sports. For example, when looking in the baseball section, you might see a baseball-like demonstration game played with a tennis racket for a bat, a beach ball for a ball,
five traffic-cone bases, and the batter sitting on a gym scooter. In the next game, everyone in the field might carry a lacrosse stick, and there are two batters, both holding on to either end of a towel.
Each demonstration game really is a collection of innovative principles—ideas that can be used to create other demonstration games. Borrowing the gym-scooter idea, you suddenly have a new way to play soccer, basketball, football, or hockey. Every demonstration game gets refined as it gets played. Maybe the lacrosse sticks don’t work as well as hockey sticks. Maybe a tricycle is more fun than a gym scooter. In refining the demonstration game, players create a new demonstration game, which in turn results in the creation of another and another.
Ever since the success of the New Games concept, I’ve been troubled by the one part that never seemed to get accurately transmitted—the part about inventing your own sports. Junkyard Sports comes 30 years later. They’re junkyard sports because the sports themselves are throwaway. They’re junk compared to the treasured experience of inventing a sport that brought everything and everyone together in fun.
I’m interested in getting senior citizens, young people, and those with disabilities to play together. I’m interested in getting people to create junkyard sports for the triathlete to play with a person who uses a wheelchair, and the preschool child to play with the adult. I like sports where the focus is on playing together. I’m interested in celebrations of everyone’s abilities.
As for “why now?,” it seems to be time. Inability or unwillingness to adapt to change is killing people in retirement homes and demoralizing them in business and educational institutions. The use of public recreation facilities and parks is declining. More and more schools are outlawing recess. As more schools reduce the scope of physical education to sports and calisthenics, as more parents force their children into organized sports for which they have neither the skill nor the inclination, we find ourselves with a growing population of sedentary, obese, disenfranchised, isolated kids who lack basic physical and social skills. Entering the community and the workforce, these people find themselves unable to function as part of a team or to muster the physical and mental stamina necessary to reach their goals.
And so many physical educators, recreation leaders, therapists, and everyone else who loved New Games are in need of something newer, something just as inclusive and attractive and fun. So do people who have noticed that their world is changing faster and faster, and the abilities to adapt and include are becoming more strongly linked with survival.
Junkyard sports give people a way to have fun together. It really doesn’t matter what they are playing. It definitely doesn’t matter who wins what. What matters is that they are all engaged, challenged, involved, and enjoying themselves and each other. As far as they are concerned, fun is the whole reason for playing the sports. They are invitations for people to have fun with each other, with their bodies and abilities, minds and hearts. Junkyard sports are opportunities to create new, funny sports for which winning isn’t the point. Playing together is.
Read more from Junkyard Sports.