Playing games is usually strongly encouraged in schools. This is partly to strengthen the muscles and to use up surplus physical energy. Yet team games are also believed to improve social skills. The essence of a team game is to balance selfishness, the desire to shine and triumph, with sociality, the desire to make one’s team win. This balance is also one of the most difficult things to achieve in much of social life. When to keep the ball and when to pass it to another is an art which stretches out into many of our activities. The balance between co-operation and self-assertiveness is well taught within the structured environment of the rules of a game.
It is also believed that games enable people to learn how to demarcate their lives. While the game is on we abide by certain rules. Then the whistle blows and we no longer have to. Learning how to handle defeat (it took me some years not to weep bitterly after losing a game) and feel relaxed with someone who has outwitted or outplayed you is an important art.
Likewise the subtle art of playing within the rules, but using as much scope and skill within them as possible, is one which is handy in almost every branch of later life. You have to learn the rules of your trade or occupation, but if you just stick to these without creative thought then you will end up as nothing special. If you break them and are caught the result is even worse. How can you keep to the rules yet excel? Skill, personal tricks, long training and perceptive observation of others are among the things needed. The concept of ‘spin’, which makes the ball behave in odd ways in cricket and disguises the real motives of politicians when they deal with the public, is one example of this.