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Driving past an Amish schoolyard in the spring, it is not uncommon to see a group of youngsters engaging in a game of softball or volleyball during recess. In the Amish society, sports are to remain played and enjoyed by the youth in the community.
The most common sport among the Amish is softball. An Amish minister of Holmes County, formerly a softball coach, explained this sport normally takes place during school, in church or in league tournaments while Amish youth are partaking in Rumspringa (a time for Amish youth to experience the outside world before making a decision to join the Amish church.)
Participation in competitive leagues is often frowned upon by many communities because of its promotion of competitiveness. Adults are not encouraged to partake in this sport because it promotes immodesty, however some Amish adults will play casually with their families.
Amish who play in organized leagues with the 'English' (what the Amish call people who are not of the Amish faith) are typically not yet members of the Amish church or are on their Rumspringa.
"A lot of Amish have talent but they lack the proper mechanics," explained the Amish minister, who wish to remain anonymous. "They are more interested in going out and playing and enjoying the game verses the competitive nature of the sport."
Volleyball is gaining more popularity and acceptance within the Amish community because it is acceptable for boys and girls to play this sport together in groups. It can be an important part of Amish youth's social life. Young girls and boys partaking in youth activities after church are likely to find their future mate during these social gatherings.
Due to its less competitive nature and more group oriented play, married Amish adults are often permitted to play also. "Volleyball can be a little bit organized but is mostly played 'sandlot' style," said the Amish minister. "Volleyball is becoming just as popular if not more popular [than softball] in some communities."
It is also not uncommon to drive by an Amish home and see a basketball hoop in the driveway or hung from the sides of the barn. Not as popular as the other two sports, basketball is still enjoyed by the Amish and often played more during the winter months.
"Sports in the Amish community is not like 'English' high school sports were parents try to relive their fantasies through their children," said the Amish minister.
There are many other small-scale sports that are enjoyed by the Amish. Lawn games such as croquet and "cornhole" (a bean bag tossing game) and even shuffleboard are popular among the Amish. The main difference between Amish and 'English' sports is the non-competitive nature of the Amish and that sports should remain a youth pastime and social endeavor.
The next time you drive past an Amish schoolyard and see the youngsters playing a game of softball or volleyball, take a minute to enjoy the carelessness of their play. Witness the joy they experience from being in each other's company, the completeness they seem to gain from working as a team and the pure simplicity of playing and enjoying the sport just as it is.