How a “Dirt League” Can Make Your Summer Less Busy and More Fun

by Jason Kotecki on · 11 comments

We’re often told that the secret to hap­pi­ness is to take the road less trav­eled. Often­times, it cer­tainly seems like there must be a bet­ter way to do things than our cur­rent approach. But the prob­lem is that the “beaten” path is so well-paved, well-marked and well-lit, that frankly, it can be hard to imag­ine that there could even be another way, let alone a bet­ter one.

One small exam­ple is the arena of orga­nized sports. My kids are too young to be involved in things like base­ball or soc­cer, but I hear sto­ries of peers who are look­ing down the bar­rel of a sum­mer in which the major­ity of week­nights and week­ends will be spent at the ball field. For some fam­i­lies, this is a cause for joy, but for most, it brings a feel­ing of dread. Appar­ently, it’s a nec­es­sary evil required to make sure our chil­dren are well-adjusted, socially com­pe­tent and attrac­tive to insti­tu­tions of higher learning.

And besides, everyone’s doing it.

I myself spent many sum­mer nights of my youth at the ball dia­mond, as did my broth­ers and my par­ents. It was a good expe­ri­ence for me and I grew a lot through it. But I have to be hon­est: the idea of spend­ing the bulk of my future sum­mer nights at the sports field is as appeal­ing as a Spam sand­wich. Espe­cially because in the years that have past since my ball play­ing days, the games and prac­tices have got­ten more com­pet­i­tive and more numer­ous, as if we are train­ing chil­dren to become pros. I do want my kids to learn how to com­pete, get some exer­cise, and have fun, but the cost that comes with the “beaten path” seems too high. I fear the busy­ness will exhaust and strain our entire fam­ily. Is there another way?

It seems that there may be, thanks to an email I got last fall from a guy named Jay. He wrote to tell me about “Dirt League”:

It all started when Ted, the Dad of of three kids ages 9, 8 and 6 found it over­whelm­ing — if not impos­si­ble — to keep up with all the sched­ul­ing of t-ball and the other pro­grams the kids wanted to sign up for. He decided sum­mer should be FUN, not sched­ul­ing. He rapidly found many like-minded par­ents and decided we should get together for some good old fash­ioned pick-up games just like when we were kids. We decided to get together at St. Den­nis field in Madi­son every Thurs­day night. Everyone’s wel­come: par­ents, grand­par­ents, kids of all ages. The par­ents respect the kids’ size, the kids respect the par­ents age and slow­ness;) If some­one dri­ves by look­ing, we wave them in and invite them to play.

We played base­ball, soc­cer, gator­ball (also called speed­ball, a com­bi­na­tion of foot­ball, soc­cer, and bas­ket­ball), and quid­ditch with the help of a hula hoop and some duct tape. We also played kick­ball in 90-degree weather, in which you had to go through the slip-n-slide from third to home. We make up a lot of lit­tle twists.

The rules are very loosely inter­preted. We all bring some­thing to pass to eat and drink or just order 10 piz­zas. Every­one comes and goes in and out of the game as they please. Some­times it ends up mostly par­ents out on the field and the kids watch­ing us and laugh­ing. The one major rule is: No elec­tronic devices.

On any given night we had any­where from 6 to 10 fam­i­lies. It just kept grow­ing. All of us agree it was the awe­somest part of our sum­mer! The fun­ni­est thing is that now we tell peo­ple “Is that on a Thurs­day night? Can’t make it. Got Dirt League.” We also call our­selves The Dirt­balls now ;)

Holy. Freak­ing. Cow.

Now THIS is how I’d like to spend my sum­mers with my kids. It’s truly a small rebel­lion of epic proportions.

I love how all the ages are included, as nor­mally, kids have their own leagues and adults have theirs. To me, this makes the expe­ri­ence much more rich. And I also love the lit­tle twists they add, which reminds me of Calv­in­ball from the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.

When my kids get a bit older, I’m going to look into join­ing this Dirt League or start­ing one of my own. Per­haps this is the sum­mer for you to do the same.

It takes a brave per­son to break free from the inter­state and head down a road less trav­elled. But it’s often the roads less trav­eled that end up being way more fun.

by Jason Kotecki

Jason Kotecki is an artist, author, and pro­fes­sional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a for­mer kinder­garten teacher) make it their mis­sion in life to fight Adul­ti­tis and help peo­ple use strate­gies from child­hood to design lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by for more tips for escap­ing adulthood.
Jason Kotecki
View all posts by Jason Kotecki

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Find Your Harmony April 14, 2012 at 9:24 am

Jason I love this!
Having 3 very busy kids, I totally get what most parents go through. But in summer we try to make space to play music, float the river and swim (instead of swim lessons and chlorinated pools) and open up time for just BEING. It is my best time of year!

This story reminds me my own childhood, where kick the can, and dodgeball were the nightly neighborhood games….everyone included. And it makes me want to pull my kids out of all their spring activities and start my own dirt league!!
Thanks for this wonderful reminder of how important the simple, less structured activities are for every family, and for the trip down memory lane!
In Harmony,
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Jason of Kim & Jason April 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Jen, floating the river sounds like fun. I just posted a question on our Facebook page, asking folks what was their favorite thing to do outside when they were a kid — so far no one has mentioned anything about an organized sport. It’s all imaginative, random, made-up things. Pretty interesting, huh?
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Jean Burman April 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Thanks Jason. When I read the title I thought this wouldn’t be for me. My kids are grown. I live in Australia. Our summer break comes at Christmas [which is a complete downtime for organised sports and all about family and beach holidays] But you know what? It makes no difference. Wherever in the world… kids have to be allowed to be kids. They need time to do what kids do [naturally - with no input from grown ups] Mine were given the option of one extra curricula activity each per school term… and the holidays were kept completely free. It seemed to work [grin] Love Jay’s idea of a dirt league. I think he’s definitely onto something. And so are you LOL
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Jason of Kim & Jason April 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Jean, I’m thinking of implementing a one extra-curricular activity per school term as well. And you are so right: kids have to be allowed to be kids. Sadly I fear they’re getting robbed of those opportunities with each passing year…
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Audra Krell April 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Amazing post. How I long for simpler times. As mom to 3 teen boys, we’ve done the crazy schedule, both parents be in 3 places at once, except here in AZ, we do it year around. I thought I was already a member of the dirt league, but now I know it’s a different dirt league I’m dying to be a part of. Thanks again and here’s to a glorious summer!
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Jason of Kim & Jason April 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Audra, yes, you would think in Wisconsin we’d get a winter break, but no. There’s hockey and gymnastics and basketball and volleyball and plenty of other things to do indoors. I am grateful for the options and the opportunities, but it can get out of hand if you say yes to too much! And that’s the challenge…
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Larry - Teen Diy Crafts April 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm

“No elec­tronic devices. ”

Ouch. That’s a sport unto itself. As a matter of fact, one might say that the simple act of turning off those items would lead to more happiness…
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Peter @ Spiritual forums April 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

Even though I majored in a technical degree, I agree with you that turning off the electronics and enjoying life – family, friends, nature – can lead to greater happiness. Sometimes I love reading my kindle or being on my laptop but there are definitely times (like yesterday) when I just wanted to take a walk outside before the sun went down rather than staring at one of my LCD screens some more.


Jason of Kim & Jason April 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Indeed Larry. It’s a sport for some, a terrifying proposition for others :)
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