If you know me well, you should probably stop reading, as you have heard me vent about this before. I have been shouting into the wind for as long as my kids have played travel sports about the toll it takes on the family. It isn’t that I don’t think kids should play sports, quite the opposite. I think sports are a great physical and emotional outlet, teach valuable life lessons and encourage solid friendships. I am jealous of my girls with all of their opportunities on the field, ones that were not available to me growing up. On top of this, I love to watch just about any competitive sport … except for golf. I can only watch golf when I’m exhausted and my eyes are closed. It is like Spa Radio on Pandora.
What I don’t enjoy is how kids’ sports, a hobby that children enjoy, has taken over our lives, has limited our family time, has intruded on school time and has put a huge dent in our bank account. No longer can you play a sport for just one season and compete. Smart, business-minded people have figured out that if you get some kids to play all year, and pay the dues, by promising excellence, every other kid will follow, lest they fall behind athletically — heaven forbid. All year long isn’t even enough in some instances as extra, for a price, clinics and individual training sessions are offered. Don’t do these and yes, gasp!, your child will fall behind.
I know those of you who fully support the all-in-or-nothing mentality are thinking, “So, just don’t let your kids do it. Problem solved.” Or, maybe you are lucky and your kids have less time-consuming hobbies, so you cannot understand why I can’t just put my foot down and better manage their time. But, I imagine there are many of you, like me, who see the madness for what it is, but still want your kids to be able to competitively play the sports they love and like me, cannot find the balance. With five kids who all want to play, sports have taken over, and I have let it happen. If you have small kids and are reading this, a word of advice. What you do for one, you will feel you have to do for all of them.
We are in it — deep in it. There are high school sports and club sports and travel sports and there are spreadsheets outlining how to get everyone where they need to be. There are also mental breakdowns — all mine. I realize I have made my bed, and now I have to lie in it, even though it is covered in mouth guards, smelly cleats, sweaty socks, tears and regret. I watched sports take away my holiday weekends, school vacations, my Mother’s day, Larry’s Father’s day and now it is slowly destroying my summer — like The Blob. Fall preseason started 3 1/2 weeks before school this year. If your child played on a club baseball or lacrosse team, those tournaments probably ended a couple of hours ago. Maybe you got a week or two of summer without the intrusion of children’s sports. Maybe you didn’t even get that. Maybe you’ve forgotten summer used to be sacred, so you don’t care. We are so used to letting coaches and field times plan our lives, we don’t remember there ever was an off-season.
There was a time, not so long ago, summer was meant for relaxation, a chance for kids and parents alike to unwind, reconnect, and decompress. There was a time the season was sacred and special. Now, for kids who like athletics, summer is almost as stressful and busy as the rest of the school year, and not surprisingly, anxiety and depression among children and teens continues to rise. I don’t have an answer, not even for my own family. We will continue to sign them up for too much, write checks, wash uniforms, deal with the stress, make orthopedic and physical therapy appointments, and we will use the rationale, “But, they really love it.” They really love candy too, but I don’t let them eat that all day long.