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.
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{ 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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