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 www.KimandJason.com for more tips for escap­ing adulthood.
Jason Kotecki
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