In days gone by, kids played a variety of different sports, moving from one activity to the other, not really settling on a single sport until their late high school years, if ever. Today, it is widely held belief and practice for parents to select their "kids sport" by age eight. For many families, this begins the wholehearted investment into the future prospects of every child. Gone are the days when kids developed skills in other sports; once the sport is chosen, the pressure and the expense, begins. We now have conditioning seasons during the heat of the Summer, special camps, travel teams, year round sports, clinics, personal trainers and position coaches - for ten year olds.
Public school demands more time from your child's life than ever before - 38 hours a week from bus ride to bus ride + homework. We then drag our exhausted and burned out kids to hours of practice and multiple games a week. All the while demanding they do homework on the one hour commute to the "away" game and not to get fast food mustard on the seat. Now multiply this scenario by the number of kids, who have different practice times, locations, and schedules. Don't forget to add in Scouts, Dance, Music, and Karate, no American family is complete by just doing sports.... I overheard a lady comment to a boy, "Where've you been, Justin? We haven't seen you in weeks." The young boy shook his head, sighed, and said, "I've had 11 games in the last 14 days." This conversation took place as the 7th grade Junior Cotillion classes were dismissing.
So we've got time, pressure, and then you have to top this off with money... the cost of a single season on an elite soccer travel team in my community is $3000 plus equipment and all travel expenses. Even church recreation leagues are $200 for a short 6 week game season. The more elite the team, the more money, time, and commitment are required. The family budget suffers tremendously for this pursuit.
The kids are having a great time, right? Really? Here's a snap shot of reality. Burned out and tired kids play for an audience of vicariously living parents. Scientists and doctors are now discovering their physical development is stunted by repetitive training. In the quest to do more - more school, more games, more practice these children are chronically sleep deprived which effects their mental, physical and emotional health.
Well, it all worth it in the end, right? The games are so much fun for everybody, right? Maybe, but here's the cast of characters: Frantic "Pinterest" Team Mom who makes sure the sports themed cupcakes are perfectly decorated and the goody snack bags are adorned with handcrafted curlicue personalize tags. There is the maniacal team Mom screaming at the coach, her kid and yours, plus the referee. Don't forget the over zealous team Dad running down the sidelines coaching his kid and then berating him in front of everyone if he makes a mistake or just as bad turns away in disgust and disappointment. There's business Dad or Mom pacing along the chain link fence in their business suit and blackberry. Then there are even stories of corrupt referees. These guys have paid off by the other teams rich sponsor to insure the game goes in his 12 year old son's favor. Finally, there's the forlorn uniformed sibling sleeping on the top bleacher dreaming of her own bed and wishing it was Sunday Morning so she could just sleep in. well maybe, many teams now are holding games on Sunday.
Our family has chosen not to play in these reindeer games. We periodically investigate putting our son in one sport of the other but can't seem to find anything that doesn't require a significant hit to the pocketbook and a part time job for us and our kid. I do not want to spend 18 hours per week driving back and forth to practices, I just don't. As a result, we don't fit in with these sports families. We're on the outside looking into this strange child centric sports culture.
The most important thing though, is what does this do to a family? What does this do to little kids? Why have Americans in large numbers chosen to live this lifestyle? What do we sacrifice? I'll tell you, we sacrifice down time, time to be quiet and to think. We sacrifice wholesome, home cooked family meals. We exhaust our children by filling their days with structured and supervised activities - they do not learn to entertain themselves or create their own fun. We speed from activity to activity never measuring the financial, personal , and emotional cost. Finally, we sacrifice our time with the Lord. We give our children Sunday morning to sleep, since it's the only day of the week they don't have to get up and run around. We don't take them to church anymore because our priorities lie with sports. Sunday is no longer dedicated to the Lord, it's for our new god, the NFL. Besides all our sports friends are coming over with their kids, we are going to watch the game and a cook out. "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."