Would it be redundant for me to speak here about the role of childrens’ sports in our lives?* Redundant in that this is not a new conversation, we have all been saying this for years now, rolling our eyes as we relay how we went from hockey rink at 7am on a Saturday, to lacrosse practice before lunch, culminating in a two-hour evening baseball game? Sitting in our cars at 8pm on a school night as our kids try out for travel soccer at eight years old? The league that will run three seasons out of four, that we will end up having paid $900 in fees and registration annually, for which we will have given up all our family Sundays? Not there yet? Trust me, you will find yourself in some version of this parenting quandary, hearing your own frazzled voice shouting at your kids as you rush off to the next thing. All with the sinking feeling of wondering how this happened, to you, who was not going to be that parent.
This is tricky for me as I have one child (Boy #1) that would rather be playing sports, any sport, than do anything else, who needs a lot of exercise to be chill enough to sit down and focus on school work, or even to have a lucid conversation. Sports are his way of connecting with peers, building his self-esteem, developing who he is and who he wants to be. We have bought him equipment for many different sports over the years, some abandoned after one season. We have allowed him to play on more than one team at once (never say never!) which has sometimes felt manageable and sometimes not.
I also have a son (Boy #2) who in general has avoided organized sports. He articulated to us that he wants no part of the intensity (his observation) of our town’s sports teams. His extra-curricular time is spent mainly on homework and violin. This spring we nudged him to try the low-key town Recreation lacrosse which is one practice Friday nights, “games” Saturday morning and that’s it. Everyone plays, he’s learning something new, he’s getting to be a part of our community. Otherwise, he can be found in our backyard on a swing, jumping on our trampoline, shooting baskets in our driveway. It has been a relief for us that he has elected to stay in “the slow lane” of organized sports.
Boy #3 is young enough that his extracurriculars include riding around in the car, waiting in the hallway during violin lessons, finding someone to play with under the bleachers at his brother’s games, and playing on my iPhone. My husband has him doing “Learn to Skate” hockey for preschoolers on Sunday mornings and I keep looking at him sideways, saying, this is a very very bad idea.
As someone for whom sports was possibly one of the most formative aspects of my younger years, I’m torn. I know first-hand the bounty of lessons to be gleaned through sports. I also know that though my parents supported my involvement in sports, and that by high school we had an erratic dinnertime with my brother and I both on teams, somehow it felt different. There were a few crazy parents yelling from the sidelines then. AYSO soccer , CYO basketball, Pop Warner football. Competition to make teams in high school. All-County, All-Section, All-State honors. Success in sports helping along college admissions.
Parenting and childhood have changed. This, too, is not a new conversation. By now, we all know that we are the generation of parents who over-manage, over-think, over-reach. We are guilty (myself included) of having inflated senses of our children’s abilities and successes. We fall into the parenting trap of needing our children to be extraordinary. Of course they’re extraordinary to us (as they should be), and perhaps they may even find that they are indeed extraordinary in some area, but chances are, they will have their successes, they will have their failures, they will persevere in the face of adversity (or they won’t), they will learn that hard work pays off (or maybe not). We hope for them to find things that make their heart sing, ways to earn money to buy milk and bread, a roof, people to be loved by and to love. But trust me, our kids are not headed for the major leagues.
Attempting to be a reasonable parent today means swimming against the slapping waves of “More! More! More”: the pressure of what we feel like we should be doing for our kids. Rec is no longer enough, they must try out for travel. Then on travel, there are A, B, and C teams. It’s not just sports, of course. There are plenty of “enrichment” opportunities, test-prep courses, accelerated classes to jockey for. Parents are the engine in all this, our vicarious involvement, our survival-of-the-fittest anxieties bubbling up through the ancient mire, our willingness to do or pay for anything to get our child “ahead” of the next kid. (I will not even get into the ugliness I have seen sports bring out in parents, the exclusivity, the nepotism, the bullying— too big a topic for today). God bless the capitalists who have figured out what a fertile market we are. Do we realize this? That there is an entire economy which profits from our anxiety and lack of boundaries?
What do you think? Am I overstating things? Do I need to get a grip? What is it like where you live? Do you see any evidence of the pendulum swinging the other way?
*When I say “our lives”, I am referring specifically to middle-class New York suburban lives as that is the one I am living. I suspect this differs across socio-economic-geographic demographics, but please, enlighten me if you have a different experience.
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