December 5, 2013

Ancient Ball Courts - Young Males - Testosterone and Some Hard Questions

When it comes to young males, there is a good reason the word testosterone starts with the word test! Testosterone is that chemical that starts pumping through young male veins in early adolescence. It's THE man-making substance, and it causes all manner of chaos for the young guys, their families, and the community.

Both men and women produce testosterone, males just make more of it . . . a lot more. Out of our evolutionary history, it's the chemical that helped males to be successful in hunting and combat. If all that wild-boy energy is contained and directed, hunting and combat were very important roles in the life of the community.

Testosterone is known as the aggression drug and during puberty, young men experience 5-7 surges of the chemical per day. This drives all sorts of chaos in their bodies. Generally speaking, young guys will often experience an uncooperative voice, acne, spontaneous and embarrassing erections, hair growth, bigger muscles, major growth spurts in body and limbs, and general confusion about all the changes.

Along with the physical changes comes rolling emotions with mood swings between anger and frustration, sullenness, to a sense of confidence and strength, sexual energy, and feelings of god-like power.

They also have a drive to test themselves, either digitally or in the real world, and in this quest they are often competitive and even combative. Sadly, the flood of testosterone hits a young man at a time when he has less than a fully developed brain (pre-frontal cortex). That's the part that guides complex decision making and the future consequences of their choices. The result is one slightly foolish, physical, and potentially very dangerous creature on your hands. That's where ball courts come in to play.

On a recent trip to northern Arizona, I visited the ruins at the Wupatki National Monument. It has been a cultural crossroads and considered home to a variety of people over many thousands of years. About 800 years ago, it was home to 85-100 people, with several thousand more living within a day’s walk. What caught my attention was a structure I had seen in other parts of Arizona and even in southern Mexico. It was the ball court.

After a little Google research, I discovered there are remains of over 220 ball courts at sites like Wupatki all over the southwest and in other parts of the United States. In addition, there are more than 1,300 ball courts found in Mesoamerica, the region that extends from central Mexico all the way south to Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.

The oldest known ball court is approximately 3,400 years old. Some form of the game is believed to have been played by the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, and Aztec. It appears that as soon as they invented rubber, a ball was created, and the game commenced to be part of what was then civilized life. We're still throwing balls through hoops and around fields today.

No one really knows when or where the game got started. There is also no agreement on why the game was played. I think it was testosterone. The book Lord of the Flies, by William Goulding, is about a plane carrying a group of young British boys that crashes on an island in the Pacific Ocean. They commence to create a boy-culture complete with their own clothing, art, language, laws, and young male aggression. We see the same thing happening today with street gangs.

If a culture wasn't at war, and that chemical was pumping the young males full of competitiveness and aggression, you had better find a way to help them burn it off or there will certainly be consequences.

The ancients have long known this fact of young male life and they developed cultural structures, rituals, and ordeals perfectly suited to a testosterone-filled young man. Ball courts and the competitions they inspired must have saved countless lives, channeled wild-boy energy, and gave the young men a ladder of achievement they could follow to be seen and honored by their community. I think the ball court played an important and boy-civilizing role in history.

We still have plenty of ball courts, and wherever there is even minimal equipment, the young guys are still called to them. What seems to be missing is a way to incorporate these places and the heroic young players into an honored place in our communities.

Where is the Young Male Place in your community?

In your world, where can young guys go to burn off energy, engage in friendly competitions, have that kind of fun, and not attract negative attention?

Where can the young guys in your world be seen and honored for their power, physical capacity, creativity, bravery, and willingness to take risks?

If we don't have places like that, what's a young man to do?

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