One of my favorite subjects to dig into is Toys and Games. You can tell a lot about a generation from the toys they played with during their childhood. Recently at one of my classes, a middle-aged man shared his experience with the NERF Ball. Now you might not think that an essay on NERF balls would be illuminating, but it was.
In case you don’t know, NERF was invented in 1970 and exploded into children’s lives during that decade and is still popular today. I bet you don’t know what NERF stands for, do you? It stands for “Non-expanding recreational foam.” This foam was made into balls for indoor use, so your knick-knacks would be safe from your 10 year-old, and into various kinds of weapons, so that your aggressive son could shoot his brother without really hurting him. The NERF marketing slogans trumpeted that “you can’t hurt babies or old people.”
The most popular NERF toy was the NERF football, and it was this toy that my student wrote about. He had been a nerdy kid, very tall and very skinny, and also very uncoordinated. He turned out for no sports at school, and was always the last one picked for any game that involved physical ability – although he was a whiz at spelling and chess.
This would have been okay, except that he wanted to play games. He dreamed of playing football, baseball, basketball, even tennis. But every time he threw a ball, it went to places he had not intended, and some of those places broke. Through experience he learned to leave balls alone.
But then someone gave him a NERF football, and his life was transformed. For some reason he didn’t understand, he was good at throwing NERF footballs. They actually went where he wanted them to. He practiced and practiced throwing his day-glo orange or lime-green footballs, every day and in every room of the house. Soon he had a treasured collection of NERF footballs, and some of his friends even started calling him Nerf – with affection.
As he told his story, my student looked up and said, “You know, I didn’t realize until right now why I was so good at throwing NERF footballs. It wasn’t because NERF was magic or that I suddenly became athletic. It was simply because I was no longer afraid of messing up.”
What a great life lesson – and from NERF balls, of all things.