Rolling In

The Free Play Softball League gang. I took this picture right after our game last Sunday. It turned out to be a beautiful day, a well-played and close game. We obtained the modest goals of our 24 year-old tradition.

If you’re over 11 years of age and have a responsible adult along with you, you can play. If you’re a bit older, you can play. You can play if it’s the first time you ever held a bat in your hand. In this photo the range of ages describes a continuum of around 55 years. Hey, but several of our most grizzled players didn’t show up!

As I suggested to Dave Kolb, one of the founders of the game (and concept!) after the game, in reflecting upon how there were but four players at the field ten minutes before the 10am, yet, by 10:30 a full complement had rolled in,

Well, it’s an open system and that’s why it works out.

Dave and me both know this term, Open System, is the model of Harrison Owen.

Open Space Technology requires very few advance elements. There must be a clear and compelling theme, an interested and committed group, time and a place, and a leader. Detailed advance agendas, plans, and materials are not only un-needed, they are usually counterproductive.

The group must be interested and committed. Failing that, Open Space Technology will not work. The key ingredients for deep creative learning are real freedom and real responsibility. Freedom allows for exploration and experimentation, while responsibility insures that both will be pursued with rigor. Interest and commitment are the prerequisites for the responsible use of freedom. There is no way that we know of to force people to be interested and committed. That must be a precondition.

The leadership of an Open Space event is at once absurdly simple and very tricky. The simplicity derives from the fact that the group itself will, and must, generate its own leadership. The tricky part comes in letting that happen. The demands placed upon the initial group leader are therefore limited and critical. Dealing with the limited aspects of group leadership is easiest and may therefore be done first. The functions here are to set time, place, and theme.

The function of leadership is to provide a focal point for direction, and not to mandate and control a minute-by-minute plan of action. The details must be left to the troops, which means amongst other things, the troops must be trusted. In no case can any leader possibly solve all problems or direct all actions.

There are Four Principles and One Law which serve as guides to the leader and all participants. The principles are: Whoever comes is the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. When it is over, it is over.
[excerpts] Source: Brief User’s Guide to Open Space Technology

Our softball group obtains some of these features, but, then, Owens’s model is not geared to folding in competitive goals at all. So, our game approximates the value set of openness at the same time it integrates a variety of individualized values, some of which are in alignment with the closed system provided for by the implicit structure of a ‘sporting’ contest. Yet, what I will term ludic meta-values trump the seeming disjunction between the zero-sum of winning/losing, with, openness to “just showing up” and “just playing.”

One set of problems I’ve been making notes about, as a student of our game, concerns the distribution of equity. This has dovetailed with my reflections about my own role as a leader-the-game-has-evoked. As an agent of aspects of this distribution, (for example by making out the ad hoc lineups each week,) my intentionality with respect to the structure of each week’s game departs from the role specified by Owen. In noting this, I have also come to comprehend how those ludic meta-values are concretely mediated as a matter of the collaborative learning about the sense of the game.

This doesn’t mean the learning constitutes a normative principle, nor does it mean there is any particular procedure for this kind of collaboration, nor does it mean every player would identify its constructive factor. This does mean, as far as my current comprehension goes, that this sense of the game is robust, and is funded by experience of the collective implementation of the game’s generous system. In other words, what the players collaborate on is, in effect, throwing together an Open System every Sunday at or around 10am. From this is derived the multiple, not singular, sense of the game. And this happens non-explicitly, and, to large degree, as a fact of the constructive subconscious; (my term.)


The Free Play Softball League convenes its open system every Sunday at 10am, at Forest Hills Park-Cleveland Heights, on field #8. If you need to loosen up, or take a few batting practice swings, 9:45am is a good time to show up. But, it doesn’t matter, because you roll in anytime before we stop play at noon. See you there!

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