Where Did the “FUN” Go in Kids’ Sports?

As parents, each day we are presented with situations in which we must determine whether or not a potential opportunity presented to or for our child, no matter how flattering, is, in fact, something that we think will be beneficial to our child (and to our family, by way of scheduling/convenience/cost, etc). The world of children’s sports teams seems to me to present more than its fair share of such quandaries. How many sports should each child play? Should my child be striving to “move up”, either to a more advanced league or within the same league, but a year-up? What if his/her entire team is moving up; do you tacitly agree to this plan? Should I be encouraging the 3 practices or more a week that are required for early elementary schools to advance in such a way? Should I be driving my child 45 minutes away several times a week so that they can have this experience? Should I be pushing them beyond the “fun” of it, especially if they show some talent or passion? What if your kids are the ones to push to be on a a special team, one with far away practice and games, or one that wants your child to “prioritize” it over all other activities; do you yield? When do you say no? 

With three kids, I have faced all of these questions at some point. While we have continually made different choices depending on the child and sport and situation, I am also acutely aware of how much I miss sports teams of my youth whenever thinking about these questions. Recently, while having dinner with close friends, we broached this subject, and one friend said, “It is the sense of community that is missing today. Today, we choose exceptionalism over community.” Eureka! I may be seeing it through rose-colored glasses, but what I remember most of all is that playing sports as a child was both easy and fun and local. You usually played up the street at the local school. A parent or 2 (usually dads) coached; you knew them and they knew you and your families, over time and all the way through school. You usually had 1 practice and 1 game a week, all at a local field, to which we could ride our bikes if our parents were unable or chose not to attend. But, most importantly, the team was wholly inclusive of all of the neighborhood kids who were interested — the naturals, the solid good players, the hard workers, and those that took longer, if ever, to get the hang of it all. Yes, there was a special all-star game at the end of the season in which the best players on each team got to play each other, but there was only one such game a season. And the whole community was there to watch it (or so it seemed). 

What I remember so fondly about those days is that we all played together — and we learned a lot about the importance of team work, where the diversity of players, all from the same community, was what mattered. In fact, when I think back on my own experiences, some of the highlights include having one of the weakest, but kindest players get a double in a softball game, after striking out so many times before, as well as having another girl, a practical, funny, straight-shooter – who had trouble hitting and catching — discover she could pitch beautifully, much to her and the team’s surprise. I also remember the unbridled glee when one of the best athletes in the county – who also was one of the most generous in spirit — hit a grand slam in the all-star game, and so many members of the community were there to high-five her as she rounded home plate.

Like so many parents, I struggle with having our kids pursue excellence at the expense of other important life lessons, including the importance of getting along with and genuinely valuing all community members in a variety of arenas, as well as the importance of good old fashioned fun. While I do not know how to go back in time, I do feel like my kids have largely missed out on the experiences above, though they do love, when given the rare chance, to be with any kids participating in an impromptu game of pick-up almost anything (except their laundry, though that is a story for another time. . . .). What do you think? Is there any way to infuse the current sports programs with a greater sense of community and good fun? Do you think the programs have gone too far in their pursuit of excellence?

By Julie Weber – Activity Rocket’s Work-Family Expert 

See Related Posts: The Rocket Book Review; Co-Parenting & Still Stressed Out, Tips for Choosing the Perfect Activity, Meet Julie Weber – Activity Rocket’s Work-Family Expert


Kids activities: classes, camps, and sports - Activity Rocket
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