I had an opportunity to interview Todd Rosenthal and review The Playground Playbook by former minor league ballplayer Todd Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal takes and interesting coaching approach in his book to help children who struggle with playground bullies and getting involved in the games. During his interview, Mr. Rosenthal brings up some interesting points about how to get your child involved in the playground to try to overcome bullying. ~ Alan Eisenberg
Q: Where did the inspiration for you to write The Playground Playbook come from for you. Was it your past or something you experienced or saw?
Todd Rosenthal: It was a combination of a few things. I spend a majority of my time in three ways. Playing music, working with children through sports, and for recreation by playing pick up basketball in New York City. I saw many of the same themes crossing over in all of those areas and wondered if there was a “basics” type of guide written for kids in terms of joining groups in the same impromptu playground settings.
Q: What do you think the long-term effects of children ostracize other children on the playground can cause?
Todd Rosenthal: I think for the ones ostracized, it can cause a lack of confidence that can be habit-forming which can lead to less than optimal performances in and away from sports. That self-doubt that says “they don’t like me” or “they don’t believe in me” can be harder to overcome if one is constantly being excluded at a young age.
The ones doing the excluding are not maximizing their own skills as people either because great players should strive to improve too and become leaders: those who play well yet can make others around them better and more comfortable too. Leaders are able to include and work alongside teammates with various levels of skill.
In the elementary school playgrounds, those same leaders shouldn’t always have to win by loading their team up. They can sense a newcomer or a shy kid and welcome the challenge to include him or her to the team.
Q: In the book, you discuss the child wanting others to ask to play. How do you see this issue as part of the overall bullying problem. Such as they not only say no, but also tease the child? What do you think the child should do in those cases, such as your reference to the “you stink” issue?
Todd Rosenthal: It never a good feeling being rejected by a playing group and feels even worse if it comes with lines attached like “you stink.” The best way I have found for kids to overcome that stigma is to prove the playing group wrong. Be tough! keep asking to play each day until the group finally needs an extra body one day and go out there and make an impact in the game.
If not, you can always just showcase your skills in the neighboring field or court where the ostracize group can see you. One thing the excluded child cannot do however, is back down and quit. Never to play with anyone else at all.
Q: Do you think that “veteran” players are easily identified? If so, how do you see their role in helping a child be able to join and play as well?
Todd Rosenthal: Veterans probably seem more relaxed to the rookie than they themselves feel so, yes. Vets probably are more relaxed too, after all they have been through it before. That is the essence of a veteran. They’ve been in all sorts of games. Blowouts, close games, high scoring ones, low scoring ones. They’ve made plays and have made mistakes. They’ve been the hero and the goat. All of which combine to give them a sense of stature and calm in the games.
Veterans know not only the intricacies of a sport’s rules, they may also know how their particular playground works. How sides are chosen. Which of the groups players acts as the leaders picking the sides most often. A veteran can offer advice in many areas and can be helpful to a “rookie” in terms of knowing who to ask as far as joining the game. Rookies have to speak up and ask vets their questions though, because not all of them are thinking about how to be helpful to those less experienced.
Q: Why do you think bullying on the playground is so prevalent? Do you have any suggestions further than the ones in the book on dealing with the bully at the time they are bullying you?
Todd Rosenthal: Bullying is prevalent because it is a basic microcosm of power, it can corrupt some people who go unchallenged. In my experience as a player in street ball, the best way to deal with physical or verbal abuse is to not back down. Play well, and be ready to stand up for one’s self if it comes to that. Most of the players I’ve run into on the courts in streetball who go to excessive lengths to scare or talk smack are hiding something. Like their own inability to shoot, or dribble well. Keep that in mind the next time you are being bullied, and work hard to not let a little extra shoving or smack talk derail you from playing your game. It’s harder to bully a player who doesn’t seem affected than one who plays less aggressively as a result.
Q: What tips do you have to help children build a tougher skin when playing games on a playground? Certainly some complain, but how can children develop coping mechanisms to better deal with those situations?
Todd Rosenthal: First understand where blame from the team within comes from. Those who try to assign blame on a teammate for a previous mistake do so to build collateral against their own gaffes or seek to camouflage them by pointing the finger elsewhere, since nobody is perfect. Know that as a player. This way the “why did you do that?!!” nonsense you may get from a teammate won’t bother you as much.
As far as handling winning and losing, and the smack talk that comes from all directions, just play more. Experience it over and over. Then the whole nature of game playing becomes easier. Like riding a bike. You have to practice to take the fear of falling out.
Q: Would you like to share a bullying story here with my readers that you experienced? How did you handle your own issues with bullying in your youth?
Todd Rosenthal: I was verbally bullied pretty hard after a pickup game in a park as an adult years ago. This after the man I was guarding scored the game winning basket in a high intensity game that was tied, and the next basket was to be the winner. The loss, as it does in pickup hoops if others are waiting, forced my team off the court. It was jam-packed that day. Many other five man teams had called “next.”
I didn’t know anybody in the park at all and my reward for being the face of the defeat, was abuse for an hour from my now “ex teammates.” Things like “thanks a lot, you suck” or “how’d you let that happen? and of course “Don’t ever come back here.” Two players in particular who were furious with me, now that they had to wait until their “next” was called one plus hour from the time we lost or hope that another team would pick them up to play before.
The more I watched the rest of that day though, the more I realized that EVERYONE who lost on other teams that followed the game I was in, were blamed by their teammates that day. So it was not just me. It wasn’t necessarily personal either. My team didn’t dislike ME. They disliked losing and losing the court.
By continuing to show up at the park and not attach too much weight should any game result in a loss and or finger-pointing, I became part of that extended group of players at the park. Emotionally capable of “taking some heat” so to speak, so rewarded with the opportunity to play by being picked by others forming teams that year as the summer developed.
Q: Where can people get “The Playground Playbook“?
Todd Rosenthal: It’s available on Amazon both as a soft cover copy and as a digital download.