Over the past few days Australia has been in mourning. A young, healthy and talented cricketer by the name of Phillip Hughes was struck by a freak ‘bouncer’ whilst playing Sheffield Shield in Sydney which came up and under his ‘helmet’ causing a massive haemorrhage to the brain….he died in hospital, aged 25 yesterday.
Aside from the great sadness at losing someone so young in such a random way (mind you the professional cricket ball IS a lethal weapon), my heart always goes to my mouth when the media jump on the band wagon about incidents of this kind. As the inevitable witch-hunt to discover ‘who’s to blame’ winds up with someone being sued or an activity totally banned or regulated beyond reason. To my surprise as I listen to the many reports on Hughes’ death, carefully chosen words were used by the media such as ‘freak’ or ‘unexpected’ which got me thinking as to why such care not to stir up ‘public outrage about the dangers of cricket as a sport’??? Most unusual. Then a conversation yesterday with my colleague and children’s play guru, Mary Jeavons shed some light on the matter.
Firstly ‘cricket’ as an activity is highly ‘valued’ by Australia as a society and any attempt to stop people playing the sport would be seen as an assault on our national character, like stopping us from swimming or using barbecues. Secondly, Phillip Hughes for all his youth was an independent ‘adult’ who chose freely to play the game of cricket. Which brings me back to the subject of children’s outdoor activities, in particular the risk of injury from play and why we don’t extend the same level of circumspect when a ‘random’ tree falls and kills a little girl and injures another student and a teacher as happened in NSW last year? As a result of this incident over 5000 trees were apparently removed from schools across the state (not pruned…removed). Trees that provide valuable shade, materials and connection with the natural environment ripped out for no other reason than to make the Education Department in NSW look like its doing something to ‘control’ the situation lest they be found wanting.
Where’s the intelligent and balanced discussion in this debate, the consideration of children’s ‘best’ needs in this picture? Ask a child what’s most important to them in their school’s playground and they’ll tell you that freedom to run around and play games with their friends, explore and have fun is what they value outdoors (among probably many other things that I’m not aware of as an adult), not ‘safety’….that’s an adult value to exercise control and show that we’ve taken action to other adults. And all the while, children’s freedom decreases , along with their capacity to develop confidence, initiative and creativity. It’s terribly sad and will have major repercussions in adulthood for these kids, I believe.
So next time you’re thinking of cutting a tree down, removing a piece or play equipment or banning an activity….before you do, talk to some kids and get ‘real’ picture on what’s important here. It might be that you ONLY REALLY need to prune some branches, modify or repair the equipment or change the rules a little to make it work and put your mind at rest!
Photo courtesy of James Birchwood