Outrage of the Week: School Bans Soccer Balls

Hi Folks! At a school for 7- to 11-year-olds in England, says the BBC, they’ve banned leather footballs (that is, soccer balls)  at what sounds like recess and perhaps before and after school. Leather balls can be for “football club” and “specific” P.E. lessons. But otherwise, all regulation balls will be replaced by balls made out of sponge.

Sort of like childhood itself: That time of daring and doing gradually being replaced with a squishy-safe facsimile of adventure.

And while we’re on the topic of Safety First, Last & Always, to the point of no return, here’s a marvelous letter by Mike, the host of Dirty Jobs, responding to a viewer complaining about a time he did not wear goggles.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! — Lenore

95 Responses

  1. There is absolutely nothing satisfying about kicking a ball made of sponge.

  2. I teach chemistry at a college, and perform research in a federal lab. I want to print out Mike Rowe’s article and deliver a copy to every one of my safety officers, inspectors, and minions. And they are legion.

    What a breath of fresh air in the mire of litigiously motivated politically correct BS that is safety policy.

    I am currently teaching a chemistry lab where everyone is required to purchase and wear gloves and lab coats during every experiment, even the ones that do not involve handling actual hazardous chemicals. This is above and beyond even in the oddball world of academic lab safety. I inquired about the origin of this policy; evidently a student got some acid on his hand once. Now, this is not a totally uncommon thing in a lab, and immediate washing with water will fix you right up. However, instead of learning from the experience, the kid called his family to complain, who called the president of the college and threatened them with a lawsuit. The way my supervisor put it was, “We had to tell them what we were doing to make sure that this could not happen again.”

    Obviously that is impossible, but burdening future students with massive amounts of personal protective equipment (props in the security theater, I call it) contented the snarling pack of lawyers and calmed the quivering nerves of the undergraduate, who had apparently been traumatized by being required to wash his hand under cold water for five minutes.

    If anyone wonders why the US is falling behind in science and math, this is why.

  3. It seems like all the adventure and spontaneity has been sucked out of life.

  4. Amen, opsomath. Amen.

  5. Before everyone has a knee-jerk reaction to this, let me tell you that I have supervised recess for 20 years. It is a good idea to use sponge balls at recess because not everyone is looking for the ball. It is unstructured play time. In a game everyone is focused in the same place. Use a leather ball in the game.

    I always ask the kids this:
    Can you throw or kick a ball harder? (They always say kick)
    If you wanted to knock an apple off of someone’s head would you rather throw a ball or kick it to do that? (they always say throw)

    This is a way to illustrate both the velocity and lack of control with kicking that most children have at their disposal. No one’s asking for bubble wrap or helmets, it’s just a different ball.

    Sorry, it’s a good idea, and the sponge balls still make for a pretty good game.

    Relax and save your ire for another fight.

  6. What’s really odd about this is that England where soccer began (at least its modern incarnation) and I can’t imagine the FA letting this one go by! Kids grow up there with soccer balls at their feet from a young age. They don’t use sponge balls in the Premiere League!

  7. Like a Nerf soccer ball? Not that bad but not exactly soccer either. If they want to get skills to play elsewhere, the different behavior of the ball isn’t a help to them.

  8. When we were kids, my brother headed a super-fast moving soccer ball to block the other team from getting a goal (to which he was successful).
    That block resulted in the discovery of a rare vascular birth defect, after turning green, babbling nonsense and vomiting… that night he spent eight hours in brain surgery a week in a coma, weeks in the ICU and months of PT and a slew of medical bills…
    While my brother never played soccer again – his own decision, I did. Granted I have an aversion to heading the soccer ball, but I still played, we had soccer balls at home and if I had kids and they wanted to play I would let them.
    I don’t think I would be very happy to be some kids these days.

  9. Rubber and leather balls last a lot longer than sponge balls. Within a few months it’s almost a guarantee they’ll need replacing from chunks being torn or kicked out of them. Not really cost-effective in the long run and what will happen on the day the kid does get hit by a real ball? Start them small or set aside a designated area for playing with them. You don’t have to ban something completely for safety’s sake. Teaching the kids is far more effective in the long run, even if it does take a few balls to the head for them to figure out how to pay attention to their surroundings.

  10. I liked Mike’s essay. I like Mike. It always drives me nuts when schools says they are concerned about our children’s safety and education. Really? Safety before education? Talk about screwed priorities.

  11. Lenore, I find it interesting that you posted that link (http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/11102/) to how “SpongeBob isn’t so dangerous!” when the writer concludes with a long paragraph about how it’s much LESS dangerous, after all, than letting your kid play outside… ALONE!

  12. 2nd grade, a kid kicked one of those pinkish spalding kickballs into my face, whammo! Straight up my cheekbone. He and a friend helped me to the nurse. I got a plastic baggie full of ice and some TLC until I stopped crying, then got sent back to class. No call home. “Nice shiner!” my dad said that night and I was offered more ice.

    6th grade science class, I touched a hot pipette and burned my finger. The teacher told me to run it under the cold water faucet and life went on. I didn’t go to the nurse. I showed my mother my blister that night and it was admired with nothing more than, “That must’ve hurt, be more careful next time.” End of incident.

    Chemistry class in high school, the teacher basically said, “You fool around in lab, I throw you out. Any questions?” Simple and effective, no binding documents went home to mom and dad. It worked.

    Any of these incidents happening today is enough to make either a parent or a school break out in a sweat of potential litigation….

  13. We spend too much time trying to prevent the ultra-rare tragedy from happening. To be honest, it is not a far cry of the Eugenics movement, which felt they could prevent diseases and genetic defects through the forced sterilization of the mentally ill, poor, or disabled. Even if we killed them off like the Nazis did, the fact is genetic defects, disability, and poor people will continue to exist. If God could wipe out all but one righteous family (Noah) in a flood and still have sin, then the rest of this eliminationist stuff we do will never work. My point is you cannot eliminate tragedies, rare stupid things happen. If we based our world on preventing the tragedies of the 1000 ways to die show, imagine how boring things would be.

  14. In my high school Chemistry class we had a poster on the wall that said, “Carol never wore her safety goggles. Now she doesn’t need them.” It showed a picture of a woman using a walking stick with dark glasses covering her eyes to walk down the road. Sort of terrible? Yes. Effective? Yes.

    Here is an example of the poster:

    Everyone wore their lab goggles if we were working with actual hazardous chemicals (acid, etc. that could splash into your eyes). We didn’t have gloves or coats. One kid did get silver nitrate on his hand and ended up with a weird stain on his skin for a couple of weeks… but that was about the extent of the damage.

    I got hit in the head by more than one basketball, kickball, soccer ball, etc. in elementary and middle school P.E. and recess. I even got clotheslined by two kids trying to run a jump rope between two trees once, ended up with a nice rope burn across my face… and my mom definitely didn’t call the school up complaining! She just told me to pay more attention next time.

    I think with enough time the low-quality foam balls they give the kids to play with will degrade and they’ll end up going back to the more durable leather-covered soccer balls just as a matter of cost. Kids play hard, who can really afford to keep replacing playground equipment like that? Besides, if they don’t learn now, when will they learn?

  15. “It is a good idea to use sponge balls at recess because not everyone is looking for the ball. ”

    And?

    This is recess-level soccer, there are not World Cup level players out there. If someone gets hit by a soccer ball, someone gets hit by a soccer ball. What’s the worst case scenario here when you’re talking about little kids kicking the ball? Getting knocked down? A small cut on the face? Is the small chance of the worst case scenario , which isn’t deadly, worth taking all the fun out of everything?

    I’ve been hit full on by a soccer ball in the chest. It was not fun. I still would not want to wreck everyone’s recess in order to prevent that ever happening again, to any child, anywhere.

  16. @quornflour-
    At our elementary school during recess, one of the kids was hit in the head with a hard rubber ball during “wall ball” and immediately turned cross-eyed. He was sent home and taken to the hospital where they discovered a brain tumor. He is now fine (had surgery and treatment) due to the fact they caught it so early. The kid that hit him probably saved his life!

    Soccer should be played on grass with a proper soccer ball. Besides, the chances are greater that a child will get exposed to a nasty bacteria harbored in the sponge petri-dish of a ball than get injured by a leather soccer ball.
    Balls.
    Unbelievable.
    Watch out hopscotch….

  17. So is being hit by a ball is a major childhood trauma, to be avoided at all costs?

    I can see it now, tv movie of the week:

    Jimmy’s Journey: How Jimmy over came the hardship and shame of being hit by a ball in fourth grade to become a crusader for the safety first campaign. And don’t miss the sequel Jimmy’s Epic Fail where we chronicle Jimmy’s fall from grace when he doesn’t sign his son up for soccer skills camp at 2 years of age.

    But really it’s okay to get hit by a ball once in a while, it builds character.

  18. I thought the Mike post was really interesting. He makes the point that Safety First is a misnomer because Safety is never first. Profit is first.

    If safety was first, we would be driving rubber cars at 30 MPH. To extrapolate, statistically, those steps would save far more people than any other public safety change. But profit it is first, not safety. So we design ever faster cars to sell. Then “in the name of safety”
    we pass laws about seat belts and car seats and DUI limits that are .001.

  19. ooooooooh I was going to send you the link to this story then completely forgot! Everything is getting stupid.

    I did get hit full in the face with a football teaching PE about 10 years ago. Bent glasses, cut on nose but I reprimanded the boy and that was it. Just one of the hassles of PE. My daughter said at the school she teaches at which specialises in sport they have numerous freak accidents in PE lessons.
    It’s the same in primary at playtime theses things happen. Sponge balls are hopeless!

  20. If you don’t want a leather ball, go for a lighter and therefore one with less impact if someone does get hit like a PVC ball, but a foam ball, now that really is a load of codswallop.

  21. Wouldn’t it just be easier to wrap the kids in bubble-wrap ? It would protect them from a lot more than just leather soccer balls.

  22. @jen – “But really it’s okay to get hit by a ball once in a while, it builds character.”

    So true!!! And if you make it through childhood without a few battle scars, what a sad childhood it must have been.

    While I avoided any broken bones (no idea how!), I have scars all over the place from childhood injuries. K-5 recess on a parking lot + clumsy me = solid scar tissue covering my knees. Middle school recess playing football and basketball with boys twice my size? My knuckles have been jammed so many times that they look (but thankfully don’t feel) borderline arthritic at 28! And once my dad accidentally hit me in the face with a softball when I had braces.

    Scary to think today they’d probably call CPS on him, even though though it was 100% unintentional. I was the pitcher for my softball team and he was warming me up – just as he was throwing the ball back to me, a teammate called my name and I broke the cardinal rule of baseball/softball – I didn’t keep my eye on the ball. It hurt like a bitch and it meant an extra trip to the orthodontist, but rest assured I kept my eye on the ball after that! (See? Learning experience!)

  23. Sponge balls hurt too. At least the ones in my high school, which were soft but had a plastic layer over them that stung like a mofo. We used them when playing Matball, which was like baseball but you kicked the ball rather than hitting it with a bat.

    I was terrible at any kind of sports, so I would always half-heartedly ‘bunt’ the ball and get out immediately. Sometimes the kids would take pity on me and just tag me, other times they took it upon themselves to hurl that ball as hard as they possibly could to get me. The worst came one day when I went to the back of the kicking line when my turn was over and the next kid kicked the ball so that it made a perfect U-path and hit me right smack in the face. We had a gymnatorium, so I was thrown back into the wall of the stage, my glasses broke into about four pieces and I cried. So yeah, if you get the right jerk kid with the right power, those sponge balls can do some damage.

  24. Apropos the post by Mike, a friend of mine once complained that she was watching a cooking show and they were setting a bad example by not keeping the pot handles turned toward the middle of the stove. Seriously? Most of the time, that’s a good practice. Sometimes, it gets in the way, and adults get to make those choices. Most of all, it’s not a cooking show’s responsibility to set a good example for people who don’t know how to use common sense unless a cooking show models it for them.

    Anyway, I appreciated that Mike admitted that goggles would have been a good idea, but then took the writer to task for her premises rather than her specific suggestion.

  25. Love Mike Rowe’s post. So true.

    Can’t imagine saying that kids can only play with sponge balls. That’s ridiculous. I’ll grant that it’s absolutely possible for a child to be injured by a soccer ball; I know a child who got a concussion from one. That’s the exception. It’s not going to happen that often. Most kids will get at most a minor injury, and that’s it.

  26. About the spongy balls, small children could bite off chunks and choke! OH NOES! No balls on the playground just in case! Or should I not say that so as to avoid giving them ideas?
    The idea of banning soccer balls in Great Britain… *sigh.* At the risk of offense, another writer has said, “Dear Luftwaffe, come back. All is forgiven!” The Brits need to grow their stones back.

    In high school chemistry, I spilled some nitric acid on my finger. Maybe I was cavalier about it but I figured the teacher wouldn’t permit access to something that would dissolve my hand before I could get help. My lab partner was freaking out, but I calmly walked to the front of the room and told the teacher. His eyebrows went up and he just as calmly produced something from the back room and swabbed it on my hand (iodine? I failed the class and don’t remember what would neutralize the acid). A couple of layers of skin changed color and peeled off over the next couple weeks. I don’t know if my parents even noticed. If they had, they certainly wouldn’t have complained. They’d have said, “Be more careful next time.”

  27. I think it depends on the recess environment. If there are grassy fields and plenty of room then by all means, use any ball available! But if, as in many urban schools, recess is in an enclosed courtyard with lots of kids around, then maybe kicking a hard ball into the unsuspecting crowd is not such a good thing.

  28. @pentamom
    I’m not talking about the skill level of the baby soccer players. I’m, for instance, talking about our urban parking lot recess where quite strong middle-schoolers might kick the ball into unknowing four square players or bug collectors.

    Nerf balls don’t hurt as much as leather.

    Guys, I’m on your side…just not about this.

  29. Soccer balls ARE dangerous!
    Here’s proof:
    1) I’ve had a regulation leather ball (unsecured in my SUV, while speeding to a ridiculously early game) bash me in the back of my head when I stopped suddenly at a light, spilling scalding coffee on my crotch. That ball hurt me bad!
    2) My nephew at age 18 months simply stepped on one and broke his leg when it turned the wrong way.
    Again, bad ball! If it were a soft balloon, there would be no problems, see? (Except for the popping and choking risk from the balloon, that should be banned, too.)
    3) When they are kicked, these hard leather balls can be like a projectile weapon. Like sporks and knives, weapons in the hands of the wrong kids can lead to dangerous situations; someone could get seriously hurt.
    Ban the balls, the monkey bars, the see saws, and everything else.
    Just keep the kids inside at their desks. Don’t you know the sun causes deadly skin cancer?
    But make sure they use tons of antibacterial hand sanitizer at their desks so they don’t get deadly MRSA from a paper cut. Can’t be too safe these days….

  30. Well, by “little kids” I did mean 11 year olds, because that’s the maximum age of the kids in this school. And yes, it’s conceded that they can throw the ball hard enough to *hurt.* Maybe even a lot. But what’s being argued is that “it could hurt if someone gets hit” isn’t a reason to ban them.

    “Nerf balls don’t hurt as much as leather.”

    They’re also lousy for soccer, expensive to replace every three days, and therefore wasteful. They may as well “replace” soccer balls with tiddly winks.

    I could go with the suggestion someone made of using the soft PVC type balls. But Nerf is ridiculous for outdoor play of any type, and effectively bans the kids from playing soccer or practicing soccer skills, because what you’re doing with a nerf ball isn’t soccer.

  31. I should have said “throw or kick” the ball hard enough to hurt.

  32. I once broke a finger playing with a soccer ball. It hurt. I survived. I believe I even owned a soccer ball after that. I’ll buy my kid a soccer if she wants one and, if she breaks her finger with, it’ll hurt and she’ll survive.

  33. My whole family plays soccer and it truly is a wonderful sport for all ages, in almost any location (try the beach), and one you can play all your life.
    To “demonize” a specific type of ball is ludicrous. It’s similar to saying biking is dangerous. The bike itself is not a danger, nor is the ball;
    It’s the person using it.
    Players have different level of capabilities. If you are lacking space, kids can juggle their ball, do tricks. Most kids who play the game know how to play appropriately in crowded areas. If not, just give them simple direction.

  34. A soccer ball, a normal soccer ball, is not dangerous to a kid between 7 and 11 years old. Anyone who thinks otherwise has skewed standards. To help you recalibrate your standards, I have included a brief list of things which are inherently risky, and should be used by children of that age only after proper training by their parents:

    1) Firearms and air rifles
    2) Bows, crossbows, and other projectile weapons
    3) Pyrotechnics
    4) Knives, machetes, and other edged tools
    5) Motorized vehicles such as go-karts
    6) High-temperature tools such as propane torches
    7) Powered cutting tools such as circular saws

    Please re-evaluate the soccer ball in light of the above list. I would also like to note that I had used all of the above items before exceeding the age range listed, and I am apparently alive.

  35. @ Lolliplover, excellent logic to outlaw not just soccer balls, but everything that can be a potential projectile. Even vomit. Can you imagine getting that in your eye?!

    And looking closer at #1, it sounds like the hot coffee hurt you more than the ball did. Should we now outlaw hot coffee? Oh wait a minute….this sounds familiar….:-)

  36. One of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had was getting hit hard in the solar plexus with the pointy end of an American football. I’ve never had the air knocked out of me that completely. But, I survived, did not cry (I was 12 or 13 at the time, so crying wasn’t cool) and went on to throw and catch many more balls. Replacing everything with sponge is just silly.

  37. I have a crooked nose thanks to a soccer ball when I was a kid. The fact is, when kids play they might get hurt. It’s part of play and part of life. Kids WILL get hurt when the play. There is no avoiding it, and trying to avoid it will just make the play less fun so they play less and sit and watch TV and get fat more.

  38. At my elementary school, the soccer balls were restricted to the soccer field (where kids were allowed to play at recess). Girls often played a game that involved throwing a tennis ball at the wall. I can’t remember any major incidents — especially not with kids who didn’t see a ball coming because they weren’t playing with it themselves.

  39. “There is absolutely nothing satisfying about kicking a ball made of sponge.”

    If it’s anything like the sponge soccer balls we used when playing indoor soccer, there’s nothing safe about them, either. The only time I’ve seen a soccer player get a concussion was when one of my teammates got hit in the back of the head by one of those foam balls.

  40. What happens when a youngster bites into the ball, gets a piece of styrofoam and chokes on it?

    That’s what happened to my small child a while ago and yet I still let her play with all sorts of balls – styrofoam and otherwise.

  41. There should be a law in using common sense, so that it offsets these frivilous lawsuits.
    Prosecuter: “Ur honor, my client is suing the school because there son was injured in class.”
    Judge: “what happened?”
    Prosecuter: “the boy spilled some acid on his hands.”
    Judge: “was he wearing protective gloves handling corrosive material?”
    Prosecuter: “he was not ur honor.”
    Judge: “was he instructed to?”
    Prosecuter: “yes ur honor.”
    Judge: “so ur saying he knew he had to wear gloves, it was instructed, yet he continued to handle corrosive material without them. Is this about right?”
    Prosecuter: “yes your honor.”
    Judge: “young man, u should have known better and applied what you were instructed. No ones fault but your own. Parents, next time I see u in my court with a ridiculous lawsuit, I will fine u. Case dismissed. Next!”

  42. wonderful comeback from Mike. Love probably more than anything, it’s authenticity. I want to hand it out to the speeding cyclist who yells at me to wear a helmet while riding my bike! No I don’t want to start a crusade of comments on this subject either. It comes down to one thing. We really need to let adults be adults and make their own choices without thinking that our scolding is going to change their minds. It only spikes irritation!
    Great letter…

  43. As if England’s performance on the world football stage isn’t bad enough already!

    I can’t count the number of times I was hurt by balls during my childhood. Soccer balls, baseballs, footballs, ping-pong balls, foam balls, rubber balls, and moth balls. The result? Several hospital visits and at 38 years old I competed in a world sporting championships.

    My little brother was hit by a thrown discus (made of wood and lead) in middle school. Broke his cheekbone. Rather than sue the school, my parents made sure he had his school photos taken with everyone else the following week.

  44. moth balls??????

  45. This is nothing new, football were banned at my son’s primary school when he was in the 1st year (he’s 13 now), those kids used to play football anyway with an empty plastic bottle or a pine cone. What was bizarre was they allowed skipping ropes because the school had a deal with a supplier who would come in and sell them. I have nothing against skipping ropes or footballs in school but given the rather ridiculous hard line the school took over football, you would have thought skipping ropes would have been considered deadly weapons.

  46. I used to like this group and the discussions, but now you’re just as rigid as the people you mock.

  47. To be fair here, the article doesn’t really explain the “accidents”. Two points, first have you ever been hit with a leather ball in the face? It HURTS!! Second, in the UK things become fads in schools *very* quickly, and such things as “kick a ball as hard as you can at a smaller kid and hit them” is not uncommon, sadly. So there’s probably a lot more to this story than is being told here.

  48. Mike Rowe Is Awesome.

    Remember the big red kickballs? They make the most satisfying sound when you kick them. Or when they hit someone on the head.

  49. are you English Beth?

  50. andreas – Are kids on your playground going down left and right from rogue soccer balls? Honestly, if you are going to push a “safety” idea on here, be prepared to back it up with hard data. Otherwise, grow a thicker skin.

  51. @Tracy: I’m not, but DH is, and was telling me how they “did the Tango” and about Konkers in school. That was technically his comment that I posted on his behalf. But I was hit more than once with a leather soccer ball in the face and head.🙂 They really do hurt. I’m surprised I didn’t break my nose more than I did.

  52. @Tracy: I probably misspelled “konkers”. Apologies for that.

  53. Sponge balls are a bad idea in a rainy climate; any ball left outside will get damp and smell funky forever after. Plus bits get broken off.

    Re safety in chem class: The biggest menace in my senior chem class was the teacher, who once blew a hole in his own desk with homemade plastique. He once left some kind of demostration going without a hood and wouldn’t let us out of the room until about half the class was coughing. That one cleared out the school. Solution: can stupid teacher.

    My junior chem teacher taught us this rhyme:

    Johnny drank some water;
    Johnny is no more,
    ‘Cause what he thought was H2O
    Was H2SO4.

    He told us on our first day that anybody caught doing stupid crap (he used stronger language) would be given an automatic F and barred from his classroom.

  54. Eh. The article linked at the bottom of the article Lenore linked to (same topic, different UK paper) says that the playground is used by kids 4-11 years old. Absent more information about the playground (its size, for one), I for one have no idea whether this ban is reasonable or not.

    I’m open to the idea that when adults are supervising large groups of kids for activities that compose a small part of the kids’ day/week/month it may make sense to enforce rules that simplify the adults’ lives. Is a nosebleed a crisis? No. Is regularly having to deal with kids with easily preventable nosebleeds a fun way to spend your day? No.

    Personally, I don’t see a particular problem with kids not having access to “real” soccer balls on a playground where they spend part of their school day. Nor do I see a particular problem with them having access to those “real” soccer balls in the same context. Honestly, I’m fine with letting the adults involved make a decision and have everyone get on with their day.

    I think the quote from Tam Fry in the article Lenore linked to may be the silliest bit of all: “No one wants a child to be damaged by having a football kicked at them, but it’s just unbelievable that we should be preventing our children learning things.”

    Really? A kid who’s not allowed to have a leather soccer ball on a school playground becomes incapable of learning things?

  55. No, andreas, we are not rigid; most here simply do not agree that leather soccer balls are such a danger that they need to be banned in school. Play – for adults and children – occasionally causes injury. Most people who went to elementary school have probably been struck by an errant ball at recess. We all lived and learned to watch out for what was going on around us.

    As for your example of a small urban school playground, is getting hit with a sponge ball repeatedly truly better? It may hurt less but getting knocked in the head with a sponge ball while playing four square is equally as annoying as getting knocked in the head with a soccer ball. If the area is too small for ball play, sadly it is simply too small for ball play and all balls should be banned to allow everyone to enjoy recess without constantly being struck with errant balls. If the area is large enough to accommodate ball play, the soccer kids need to have respect for others and try to control their balls, regardless of type. I understand that the occasional soccer ball will fly off course and hit other kids, but if this is happening regularly, then either the area is too small for soccer at all or the soccer kids are not watching what they are doing.

    Beth – If kids are intentionally kicking balls in other kid’s faces, the kids doing so need to be disciplined, not the balls. When did we fall into this mentality of banning objects used inappropriately as opposed to disciplining the inappropriate users? When I was a kid, if you intentionally kicked the ball in some kid’s face, you lost your ball privileges (at minimum) but the rest of the school carried on. A fad quickly dies out if kids are actually disciplined for engaging in the fad.

  56. Fair enough, bogart, but it seems like there’s something deeper going on when you have people who think that foam balls are somehow an acceptable substitute. That tells me you have people who really, really don’t get what playing with soccer balls is meant to be about, or just have a “safety first” mentality where safety considerations are allowed to interfere with the purpose for which you let kids have recess — to play in an actual FUN way. Frankly, I’d rather see them not allow soccer balls during free play, than think up nonsense like that. You’re right, after all, that not allowing the kids to use a certain kind of equipment outside organized time is perfectly appropriate. IMO banning soccer balls is over the top, but thinking that you’re somehow not banning actual soccer-type play because you provide foam balls is ignorant or worse.

  57. Well now, why don’t we just knock out the breeding and save ourselves the trouble.

  58. I grew up on a farm in the middle of NOWHERE, so if we wanted to play, we had to invent our own games…strange I know! One year, one of us got a soccer ball. Being that soccer had not yet made its way to the cotton fields of Mississippi in the late 70’s, we didn’t have a clue what the rules were, so we made them up. We got bored with chasing each other in the humidity without really ever having a clear winner, so we came up with “Monster Ball” which was baseball played with the soccer ball. After two innings, one bloody forehead and two busted lips (from the aluminum bat recoil), we were in unanimous agreement that Monster Ball was an epic fail (and the five of us never agreed on anything!). We didn’t need a lecture, memo or decree from above, to figure out that if we were doing something that caused pain, we should stop doing it or stop whining!
    P.S. Mike Rowe can do annnything he wants in my shop without safety goggles!

  59. Pentamom, sure, I’d be more comfortable with the thought that the playground’s not appropriately configured for play with balls + however many kids/ages are generally there, than with the substitution of foam balls for soccer balls. But in the overall scheme of things, the school deciding to substitute foam balls rather than banning balls outright seems a small issue.

  60. I followed some of the links below the BBC article and it turns out the school has had a policy of “recommending sponge balls on the playground”…”for a long time”. So it’s not new. Also it’s sponge, not foam & I think that might mean sponge rubber. Do they still make sponge rubber balls in the US?

    I’m with Bogart — we’re jumping to conclusions. We know nothing about the playground or the facilities there. We know nothing about the history behind the ban. We do, however, seem to think we know more than the adults who made this decision. How does that make us different from the lady in the next post, who thought she knew better than the kids’ own parent? Not all rules are bad ones.

    Also, folks, the ban is on the school playground. Not the soccer pitch, not the neighborhood park, just the playground, and only at recess and before school when it’s likely to be crowded.. This is hardly onerous and isn’t likely to put much of a damper on anyone’s soccer skills. Bet there’s somewhere better to play, anyway.

    We were only allowed to use sponge rubber balls in my primary school playground back in the early 70s. They survived pretty well, nobody choked on them (though occasionally they lost a piece which gave them an interesting bounce) and they didn’t soak up water. . I have no idea what the reason actually was though we kids all thought it was because they were less likely to break a window. Amazingly enough, I learned to kick and throw just fine.

    I shall save my ire for bigger issues too.

  61. This is not really a new thing. At the primary school I attended in the uk (I left 21 years ago) we were not allowed to play football in the playground unless it was with sponge balls. As a kid I had no problem with this – the playground was small (a bit larger than a netball court) with about 200 kids playing on it – the sponge ball rule meant that the rough and tumble soccer game could take place next to the girls making daisy chains. There was always a risk that you could receive a sodden sponge to the face, but that was far preferable to a leather ball to the face. Plus another advantage was that sponge balls cost maybe a pound each, if that – so any kid could afford one, unlike the expensive leather balls. They didn’t last forever of course – they would gradually disintegrate and flake away. The challenge was to continue playing with them as long as possible – I’m sure my skill level improved due to dribbling a half sized wonky shaped ball across that playground. And we always played with proper leather balls during P.E. lessons, when you were on the wide football field with no little ones to injure. I loved break-time footy games – they were raucous and mental and now I look back on it, they allowed us the freedom to be wild in that little playground that we would never have had if we had been allowed leather balls.

    Child care involves compromise. As in this case where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, I say decision well made. Perhaps we can avoid the ‘one size fits all’ approach that we so dislike in the health and safety nazis?

  62. My 12-year-old son’s response to reading Lenore’s post was, “All of the kids at that school must be a bunch of crybabies.” This was after coming home from school yesterday with a black eye from being hit in the face with an American football (a real football that’s youth sized and not a sponge one). On Mondays my son and his classmates have a long day at school with a 90-minute lunch break. After eating lunch and doing homework, my son, his friends, and anyone else who wants to play go outside go to the school courtyard for a pickup game of either American football or soccer. There is no grass, but it doesn’t matter. When my son comes home from school on Mondays, I get the weekly injury report. This week it was his turn to get hurt. From what my son tells me, a kid who gets hurt will either get right back in the game or wait a few minutes before rejoining the fun.

    The interesting thing is that nobody from my son’s school called to say anything about him having a black eye or the boys playing American football during their break. There are no calls to ban real balls or have the kids stop playing during their lunch break, nor were there any incident report forms to sign. My son’s football wasn’t confiscated by a teacher. In Germany people still realize that kids will be kids and incur bumps and bruises along the way. After seeing that my son’s black eye was relatively mild, I told him that having a black eye is a sign of being a real boy. Next Monday he’ll be out in the school courtyard with his friends getting some exercise with a real ball during his lunch break.

  63. I was so proud of my sons high school last week. When he got home his hand was bandaged. In physics lab they were doing a unit on pendulums. They went to the gym to use the ropes. My son decided to climb to the top of the ropes to get an exact measurement (they had been estimating it and he decided it needed to be verified). On the way down he slipped and got rope burn on parts of both hands. The school never called me, they just wrapped him and sent him on his way. I did tell him I was proud he was able to get to the top. And I’m sure his physics teacher will not discontinue the lab due to my son’s injury.

  64. Could someone please explain the link between and actual safety hazard and not letting children play with balls? Isn’t the problem here that the balls are a perceived danger? While the situation cited IS and actual dangerous situation?

    Sadly, even here we can’t tell the difference between actual danger and perceived danger.

    BTW- I work in the safety area and I get very tired of dealing with people who don’t want to wear their safety equipment one week then are suing us the next because they hurt themselves. It’s not safety that is putting us behind in math and science, it’s our own stubborn stupidity.

    Maybe taking balls away at school is comparable to Doctors wearing gloves in emergency rooms? Hey I say we start a movement to get rid of those gloves! It’s too much safety, who needs it?

    Yep it’s an outrage alright.

  65. The link, Su, is that Mike Rowe did not defend his non-use of safety glasses, he pointed out that “safety first” is an unworkable position and a false one at that.

    If industries were concerned about “safety first,” they’d shut down. This isn’t just because they’re greedy people who “don’t care,” but because the *point* of their business is to make money (which is what allows them to employ people in the first place) not to practice safety. If we all wanted to practice safety FIRST, we’d stay in bed. (A properly safety-evaluated bed, with medical staff on call at every moment.)

    Similarly, the point of recess is not never to be hit by any flying object that could possibly hurt. If it were, we’d have kids play gin rummy in padded rooms, instead of playing outside.

    Sure, teach kids to play in such a way that they avoid whacking by-standers with their soccer balls. Yes, of course people in an industrial setting should wear appropriate safety gear. But in each situation, not only is putting safety “first” impossible, it would make the thing you’re trying to do impossible in the first place. So while rules and practices should be motivated by reasonable safety, we have to lose the illusion that the ideal situation is one in which no one could *possibly* get hurt.

  66. Pentamom, the kids could ply gin rummy? what about paper cuts?, better they should sit at their desks and do nothing😛. seriously, my kids have all had their share of bumps and bruises, mostly at recess. Oldest broke his elbow, and required surgery to repair it when he was 7. Did the school ban the use of the climbing equipment, no, did we sue, no, We used it to remind him not to climb on the outside because you could fall and get hurt. (which he did). End of story.

    The issue I have here, is that we are going to create a generation of kids that won’t try anything because there might be any danger or risk involved. Safety first yes but when practical. Too many rules and regulations are going to choke the fun out of everything.

  67. I was reminded about an indoor recess we had when I was in first grade. It was winter in Chicago, and considered too icy to safely play outside. So for recess we got clay to play with at our desks. The teacher stepped out for five minutes. During that five minutes one of the boys made a clay gun, chased one of the other boys, which caused one of them to trip, fall, and split his head open on the desk. Blood everywhere, stitches involved. And the stitched one got yelled at for running in the classroom, rather than them deciding that clay was somehow dangerous.

  68. “Safety first yes but when practical.”

    Yes, but the point is that when you say “but when practical” you don’t really mean “first.” It’s sort of nitpicking, but when a slogan undercuts what you’re really trying to accomplish, it’s worth criticizing it, especially if it tends to create a certain mentality that isn’t helpful.

  69. BMS — I’m guessing the other kids wasn’t expelled for making a clay gun, either.

  70. Mike made a great point when he said: “Besides, if the government were really concerned with my safety above all else, wouldn’t they drop the legal speed limit to 30 miles an hour and make cars out of rubber?

    John Taylor Gatto – in his great book: “The Underground History of American Education” says:

    ” Consider the art of driving, which I learned at the age of eleven. Without everybody behind the wheel, our sort of economy would be impossible, so everybody is there, IQ notwithstanding. With less than thirty hours of combined training and experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more lethal than pistols or rifles.”

    You can read his book on line at:
    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/1d.htm

  71. I forgot to put quotes after Mike’s remark in my comment above. The rest about John Taylor Gatto was my own.

  72. In a way though, safety does have to be practical to a point. I could be perfectly safe from auto accidents by never getting into a car, ever. However, that isn’t practical, given that not every location I wish to get to is served by public transit.

    I am the safety officer for my engineering department. I could ensure perfect safety in the labs by, say, requiring students to wear asbestos suits, face masks, and padded gloves for all experiments. This isn’t practical, and would actually make some experiments less safe, since they would lose hand dexterity. So yes, I make them wear safety glasses, gloves for chemical experiments, and make them think about safe operating procedures. But if I go overboard, either the experiment can’t get done at all, or they rebel and ignore my suggestions because they’re clearly stupid. Experimentation, as with life, involves some level of risk. You mitigate that risk with reasonable precautions and planning, but the only way to completely eliminate the risk of an activity is to not do it.

  73. You want “safety first” pushed to the extreme? During my second deployment, I received a safety write up for not wearing my reflective belt while walking less than 1/2 mile, in broad daylight, from my office to chow. Never mind that my FOB (Forward Operating Base) was nicknamed “Rocket City” because we averaged about 10 mortar & rpg attacks a week., by George, you better have the reflective belt on!

  74. If the playground is small and the age range is large (4 – 11), the chances of a young child hit by a fast moving ball kicked by an 11 year old is high… so let’s get more facts before jumping all over the school… having said that, at my kids’ school, they split recess time so the very young kids are out at different times as the older kids, less chance of accidents with the younger kids by hard playing older kids… and soccer is allowed but teachers also split field time by grades, grade 1-2 can make teams, then grades 3-4 and then 5-6… again, to let kids play at their physical level and reduce chances of older kids hurting younger kids by accident.

  75. “In a way though, safety does have to be practical to a point.”

    Of course it does. But that’s why you don’t put it “first.”

    The argument isn’t against taking safety seriously, it’s against the nonsense that it comes “first” over everything else. If it’s really first, there is no space for the everything else to happen, as you point out. The argument is against a dumb slogan/mentality about safety, not against the necessity of safety as appropriate to the situation.

  76. rodrigo, FWIW, we already know the age range is 7-11. But your point is well taken.

    I agree with those who have said that if it’s a confined space, it could be a problem. And being a dumb American, I forgot that “sponge” in British English doesn’t quite mean that super-soft, porous stuff you wipe your sink with.

  77. @pentamom — according to one of the other articles linked to from the BBC one, the age range is actually 4-11.

    Moving the leather balls elsewhere doesn’t in any way guarantee safety regardless. The kids could all be hanging upside from the monkey bars for all we know.

    Unrelated except for materials: this month’s Popular Science has an article about sponge rubber soccer balls. These ones contain a little generator and an outlet; two hours of play runs an LED lamp for at least an evening. Apparently there’s a donation program for kids in developing countries. How cool is that?

  78. Thanks Frances. It seems like it’s a different school, but yes, the issue’s the same. I definitely think the difference between 4 and 7 matters here, too. So I can still be thinking the junior school is over-reacting (unless there’s a limited space issue, which I can see) while thinking that the policy is more reasonable for a primary school.

  79. What? That’s crazy! I’d understand it in the US where Futbol is weird sport involving lots of violence and not the Beautiful Art and Sport the rest of the world plays, but England? They should know better than banning boys favorite game. I’m not kidding, I live in a country that is “futbolero” and every boy I know played futbol, even my nerdy brother!

  80. @Pentamom — well, if it’s 7-11, what I’m thinking is that the school MIGHT be over-reacting, not that they are. Minor point, but important: as usual we don’t have enough information to draw conclusions.

    I wonder if we would be having the same conversation if it were a different piece of sport equipment — say, baseball bats? Does my kid have a right to swing a bat on a crowded playground where your kid might get hit by it?

    @Maricruz — nobody’s banning futbol. Just leather balls on the playground at certain hours. Let’s not get carried away.

  81. “Does my kid have a right to swing a bat on a crowded playground where your kid might get hit by it?”

    Depends. Do you really mean MIGHT? Or do you mean LIKELY?

    I don’t expect ALL injury to be avoided for my child. If kids are playing baseball on a field a reasonable distance away from the rest of the kids and a bat happens to fly out of a hitters hand and strike my child, I’m not going to be upset about it (beyond the upset anyone has when their children are injured). Sure, such things MIGHT happen but there is not a substantial likelihood of them happening regularly and not something that we need to ban bats on the baseball field to avoid.

    However, if kids are swinging bats on the crowded playground such that each swing has the potential to hit a child playing another game, then I have a problem with it. But my problem with it is not alleviated by saying that they can play baseball on the crowded playground with a wiffle bat. If a bat cannot be swung without a reasonable risk of hitting other children, then ALL bat swinging should be banned.

    I feel the same about soccer balls. If we are talking about a sizeable playground where soccer can be played, albeit with the rare errant soccer ball MAYBE hitting a child playing another game, then soccer balls should be allowed. If this is truly a crowded playground where any kick of a ball has a reasonable likelihood of hitting a child playing another game, then ALL ball kicking should be banned. I don’t see that getting pelted with lighter balls while playing tag is okay while getting pelted with soccer balls is not.

    So I think the regulation is stupid regardless of what the play area looks like. It is either a relatively safe area to play soccer or it’s not. The softness of the ball is irrelevant. I don’t want my child to have a substantial risk of being pelted with balls from soccer players while playing tag regardless of the risk of injury because recess should be fun for everyone and getting pelted by ANY balls is not fun (unless you are choosing to play dodge ball).

  82. “I wonder if we would be having the same conversation if it were a different piece of sport equipment — say, baseball bats? Does my kid have a right to swing a bat on a crowded playground where your kid might get hit by it?”

    Well, I did say I could see it if there’s a limited space issue involved. That is, if there’s a daily likelihood someone could get hit by a flying ball, or if the area is so small that a kid’s likely to get hit by a swinging bat (I can’t imagine a semi-conscious adult in charge of the playground allowing kids to swing bats in that situation, though, bat policy or no bat policy. I don’t think it behooves either of us to assume that no one involved is going to act with the sense of a four year old unless there’s a rule about it. Besides, how can you even pitch a baseball to someone if the playground’s so crowded the kids are all standing less than three feet from each other?)

    But Donna makes an excellent point, as well.

  83. A little ray of hope:

    For me, the best part of a recent International Cub Scouts camp, and I suspect all of the kids involved, was a HUGE, impromptu, completely kid-organized and led, light saber battle during their freeplay time. (The theme for the weekend was Star Wars.)

    There must have been at least 70 kids battling on either the “Foam” or “Plastic” teams, playing a game that seemed to be a hybrid of pretend light saber fighting and freeze tag. (There was no serious fighting and, most often, they did it slow-motion, with one or both of the combatants” falling to the ground to wait for one of their teammates to unfreeze them.) Our Pack was on the Plastic team because they had all plastic light sabers. The other team, because of limited resources and budgets, made a light saber for every youth out of half a foam pool-noodle wrapped in duct tape, Hence their “Foam” nicknames.

    They must have played for an hour and it was all smiles. Nobody was injured anymore than a few seconds of crying and an “I’m sorry. Are you ok?” couldn’t handle. No feelings were hurt and everyone came away feeling like a winner. Ask any one of them involved and they will all say that “Plastic versus Foam was the best part of the weekend.” Although a few of us old folks watched, no adult intervention was needed.

    The downside? None that I have seen so far. Could somebody have been hurt? Sure. BUT the kids seem to have instinctively know this and prevented it from happening. Even though we were supervising, we didn’t have to intervene.

    It was pretty cool!

  84. I keep hoping that they will ban soccer.

  85. But they could bite off a chunk of foam and choke on it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  86. Odd that Mike goes directly from the topic of wearing safety glasses–which he admits is a good idea–to crazed overreaction to the phrase “safety first.” I get that there are people who chafe at safety regs, and some of them are totally out of whack. But really. Safety FIRST means you think about it BEFORE you start your machine. When I started working at a machine shop, I got numerous lectures from my co-workers, describing the most horrible accidents they had witnessed or heard about, in order to convince me that wearing gloves or glasses or keeping my hands in the right spots was more important than my comfort (“first,” that is). Hearing about a co-worker having to have metal shavings drilled out of his eye got me wearing my glasses. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with whether my boss’ goal is to make money.

  87. flynn, if that was the only meaning of “safety first,” how do you figure it applies to lots of situations that don’t involve operating machines — or in fact, doing anything really potentially dangerous? Yet it gets used those ways all the time.

    So I think Mike might be onto something in understanding it as a statement of priority, rather than sequence — although you’re right, taken as a statement of sequence, it’s perfectly reasonable.

  88. […] she does occasionally touch on the way the “Safety First” mantra affects adults as well.  She recently mentioned this 2009 essay by Mike Rowe of the TV series Dirty Jobs, and it impressed me so much I’d like […]

  89. Kidlets are being turned into overyl fragile snowflakes that are sheltered from the scrapes and bruises that are part of maturing both physically and psychologically. Granted sometimes an eye is blackened or a tooth liberated unexpectedly, but they learn they can survive it, how it feels and that right there is a valuable lesson in empathy that many kidlets need.

  90. Where can you buy a leather football these days? They went out with the ark.

  91. All I have to say on this:

    FALL MIGHTY ENGLAND, FALL!

    Maybe this will end their world football dominance🙂

  92. When I was a kid, we would play dodge ball with slightly deflated baskeballs. Sure, it hurt if it hit you, but that was why you had to dodge it! Nobody ever got seriously hurt though, and we always had fun.

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  94. It’s such a shame….. things have become so ‘politically correct’ these days, and the insurance companies also pull all the strings, so there is no way out for schools to do the best thing for the children.

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