I was a speaker at a middle school camp last summer. On the final night of camp we had some free time so I decided to spend time with campers in the game room. It had some pool (billiards) tables. The game room at camp is a great place to connect with middle school boys as long as you can put up with the funky body odor smell that develops after campers have been in the room for more than five minutes.
I challenged three boy campers to join me in a game of two-on-two pool. They agreed, so we split up teams and began the game. It ended up being the longest game of pool in my life, but also the best.
The game must have lasted about about 45 minutes, which is long for pool. That’s a long time for middle school boys to stay engaged with any activity besides sports and video games. Our game took so long because none of us were playing well. We kept hitting bad shots and not getting anything in the pocket.
I couldn’t have cared less how long the game was taking because it allowed ample time for us to talk about lots of different things. I must confess: I was trying to intentionally not hit balls into the pocket because that meant the game could continue and we’d have more time for conversation.
I don’t always intentionally try to play badly when I’m competing against students. You have to be careful because otherwise students will realize what you’re doing and get mad when they realize you’re not trying your hardest. But in this particular case they boys suspected nothing.
Our game ended right before the bell rang to go to the next activity and I honestly don’t remember who ended up winning. What I do remember is I was able to engage three middle school boys in a 45-minute conversation only days after I had met them. I left the game room feeling satisfied and encouraged by the depth of our connection—and grateful that I could get away from the terrible smell in the room!
I’m guessing the three boys don’t remember who won the game, either. But hopefully they remember that they got to talk and hang out with their camp speaker for a long time that night. Sometimes winning with middle school boys means losing on purpose. Connecting with students is far more important than beating them in a game.