change agents

This place has been heavy on sports related posting recently and I have a couple more on the same topic marinating in draft form. I read an article recently that caught my attention in a different way that went beyond me sharing about the epic meltdown at drop off from our "sports refuser" when I told him that NO, he could not wear his soccer cleats to school and WHYYYY could soccer not be today. I got a bit defensive reading it because while I agree with his opinion about the competitiveness happening in sports for kids and adolescents, I wholeheartedly disagree that supporting our kids' athletic pursuits will somehow sacrifice the importance of family. I am not a soapbox kind of girl most of the time, but today I am.

The article is written by an ER Physician in Indiana and he describes the competitive nature of parents, their willingness to set aside real physical ailments to instead address how long their kids will (or won't) be sidelined. He talks about what he feels is the deterioration of the family, schlepping from place to place instead of spending time together developing a family unit. I wholeheartedly agree that we as a society are putting too much pressure on these kids and ourselves. I do, however, see value in a society that celebrates healthy competition and encourages physical pursuits during an era when obesity is such a serious issue. I'm not looking forward to travel soccer or organizing a three times a week hockey schedule for Caroline in the fall. In fact, I am nauseous just thinking about fall and I'll be over her vomiting in the corner because nine months of this?

I do think that sports are our natural answer to engage our kids OUTSIDE. We didn't grow up in an era with on demand television, apple products, the internet, ABC Mouse or any of the other things that our kids naturally gravitate towards and we reluctantly give into for a few moments of blissful silence in our homes. "I used to be outside from breakfast to dinner during the summer" is our generations "I walked uphill both ways in the snow to school." For many kids staying indoors with these devices is more attractive than being outside at all. When I do unleash my kids into the yard, I can time it almost perfectly to the second when playing will deteriorate and someone is crying or screaming or not sharing. Playing in the yard becomes infinitely more harmonious when I introduce two soccer balls, the t-ball set, the hockey or lacrosse sticks. If I can spare the time because I don't happen to be wrestling with a hose or the electric hedge trimmer, it is when I play sports with them that their play and our family time is at its very best. Some of my favorite moments with my kids have been shagging their wiffle balls, instructing them in how to scoop a lacrosse ball, how to stop the soccer ball before they kick it back to me. I am sure my neighbors can tell when I am engaged in this way vs. yelling their name or telling them we will have to go back inside if they cannot get along.

I want my kids to learn the lessons that sports can teach them; teamwork, accountability, confidence. The title of the article, "your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros," yes, obviously this is true. I think my kids enjoy sports now and I want them to enjoy them for as long as they can. I hope that when they don't play anymore that they can carry their learned appreciation for the sport with them for their entire life as a fan. I want them to learn the lessons of sports while they are young and there is not such an emphasis on the competition part, the try out part, the traveling ridiculous commitment part. I want them to explore all of their interests, whatever they may be, but Steve and I as parents feel that sports are important. The lessons they can learn on the field both personally and collectively with their team are far too great to not explore; bravery and humility. As parents we need to emphasize their effort, hard work, team work, and good sportsmanship. That is our role, we are not just schleppers. Those rides to and from do not need to be divisive to the family unit. They are opportunities, not just time to pass out juice boxes and drive thru on our way to the next thing. We have an obligation not to overschedule and overexpose our kids to too many activities, allowing them to explore things in a reasonable way that makes sense for each child and our family. The last thing we tell our kids before they play is "have fun!" and the first question we ask afterward is "did you have fun?!"

I won't deny that the competitiveness has gotten out of hand. I have seen it myself as we strap Caroline's skates on and a game is finishing on the ice. From my own observations, it isn't the kids, it is the parents. What our kids do or not do on the ice, the soccer field or in the pool is not a reflection on ourselves, but an illustration of their own abilities within their peer group. The most important lesson I want my kids to learn in playing sports is that even when you do your best, you won't always win. It won't be Suzy's fault for missing the catch, Johnny's for not swimming his best lap, or Jane's for missing the ball. It is the work they all put in collectively together that affects the outcome and you can't always win, there is always next time. I want them to support their teammates when they score a run AND when they strike out. I want the opportunity to discuss with them in the car their own impressions of the game, how they played, and what they want to do next time. I want to hear about the thrill of scoring a goal or passing the assist as much as how it felt to miss the save or drop the catch. Both are equally important.

I don't know how we as a society can move more in that direction when things are so skewed in the other. I know that I want more opportunities for these conversations and less of the cliquey phone calling/emailing spring soccer team sign ups for first graders. My response to that this spring when I heard the rumblings of "who has room on a team?" and "I'm sorry, we don't have any more spots," was to ignore the entire thing and sign my daughter up for another sport. We chose something else where the goal was skill building and experience and not on which team you are on, if you win, or what your record is.

Back to the title, "your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros." They aren't, they likely won't, and that is okay. Our kids won't likely play baseball outside of the little league field (unless they are like my husband and play organized old man softball). Our kids aren't likely to get college scholarships for sports. They are even less likely to make a living off their hand eye coordination. Does this mean we don't do it then, that if you can't be the very best, it isn't worth pursuing in a reasonable way? Their childhood experiences in sports will carry them far in life, all the way to working on a team in a professional environment. Instilling a love for the game can create lifelong opportunities for them to enjoy time with family, not drive a hole in the family unit. We spend more time at college football games with extended family and friends we see only during football season than is reasonable for most people, but our kids love that time. It is not just for the game, but for the experience with their family. My husband and his father watch playoff sports together on occasion. Our children are so looking forward to the Bruins game on Saturday that we have planned our day around watching it together. Sports not being an opportunity to bring family together, I disagree.

We need to take a step back parents and reprioritize, seek out the value in these experiences and remove that which isn't healthy or helpful. We need to do it together. Our kids aren't learning anything positive listening to our "cheering" at games. They certainly aren't learning things by having no time unless you think it is healthy for an elementary school student to have to learn time management from the back seat of a minivan. Moderation is key, working together is essential, and we alone can be the change agents here.