In the not so distant past, kids played a variety of different sports. Sports had seasons and kids moved from one season to another, not settling on a single sport until their late high school years, if ever. This variety taught them different skill sets, types of movement, tempos, and paces. The varied sports insured they made different friends, had different coaches, and became well rounded. Sports was a balanced part of childhood and the family did not revolve around the child or his activities. Today, it is widely held belief and practice for parents to select their "kids sport" by age eight. Once the sport is chosen, then the wholehearted investment, commitment/pressure, and expenses begin. These kids 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 kids to hours of practice and multiple games. Frazzled moms yell at tired kids to do their homework on the one hour commute to the "away" game and not get fast food mustard on the seat. Are you tired yet? Wait, there's more. Now multiply this scenario by the number of kids, who have different sports, practice times, locations, and schedules. Add in Scouts, Dance, Music, and Karate, because we have to give our kids everything we did not get to do. Recently, 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 class that was dismissing at 8:30 pm. That 12 year old boy had put in a 13 hour day and I'd bet he still had homework.
So we've got time, pressure, hectic schedules; 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? Even when the kids are enjoying themselves and the rigorous schedules, this lifestyle is having a negative effect on them. Consider this, scientists are now discovering their physical development is stunted by repetitive single sport training. Concussion risks and long term neurological damage have gotten press in recent years but the full extent of the problem and the long term consequences are far underestimated. We demand 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 a cast of characters that can be found at just about any field or gym in America. First, let's talk about "Pinterest" Team Mom who makes up goody snack bags that are adorned with handcrafted curlicue personalize tags for each player. There is the maniacal crazy Mom screaming at the coach, her kid and yours, and the referee. Don't forget the over zealous team Dad running down the sidelines coaching his kid as he runs. Then, there is the berating parent who humiliates his kid in front of everyone if he makes a mistake. There's Business Parent pacing along the chain link fence in their business suit and blackberry, "Look at me, I'm so important at work that I have to take this call and can't watch the game, but give me props for showing up." (God forgive me, that was me...) Finally, there's the forlorn sibling, asleep on the top bleacher wearing her grass stained softball uniform. Her game is over but she has to wait for her brother's game to finish. She's been up since 6:00 am, so she's 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.
Let's not leave out the organizers, coaches, and referees. There are even stories of corrupt referees; paid off by the other teams rich sponsor or booster club. We have the "Home" referee who is going to insure that his team wins. The other team reciprocates with their "Home" referee because all is fair in Middle School Football. Some coaches appear to have their sole mission in life to win. Not to teach, not to have fun, but to win at all costs. Their self esteem seems to hinge on this 5 year old peewee football game. They will exhaust the good players and never cycle in marginal kids. They won't throw the football because their is risk involved, thus leaving out important parts of game play because their only objective is to win. We've encountered a number of cheater coaches throw tantrums and quit in the middle of a game. We've seen flag football coaches instruct their players to tackle. We've seen soccer coaches laugh and applaud when their 7 year old boy players run over 5 year old girls. These coaches and parents give lip service to sportsmanship and having fun, but many will relish the opportunity to cheat if they can get away with it, winning at all cost. Don't think for a minute the kids don't see it, they aren't stupid.
Our family has chosen not to play in these reindeer games. At one point, we were a Sport's Family, well, the light version anyway. My husband coached a number of teams and our son was in martial arts. Middle School was a difficult adjustment for our son and we began to cut back on his sports schedule. He played on sport instead of two. We periodically investigate putting our son back in one sport of the other because he is a great athlete and there is part of us that buys into the sports fantasy too! We 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. He's past the time when all kids now have their sport and everything is deadly serious and expensive. I do not want to spend 18 hours per week driving back and forth to practices, I just don't and these days there isn't an extra $650 laying around. 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.
So we have an unique cross roads of a sports crazy culture that intersects with a child centric culture and this is what you get. The most important consideration is, what does this do to a family? What does it 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 reading and learning. 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. We sacrifice our kid's health, from sleep deprivation, to repetitive movement injuries, to concussions - this frenetic pursuit is having an effect on your child. 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, our new god.
Where do your priorities lie? It's pretty easy to see, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."
(This video clip gives insight into what we adults do to kids. Warning Strong Language)