Enough is enough already. Parents, we have GOT to chill right out about our kids. Like RIGHT NOW, we’ve got to pull our collective selves together. We must cool our ever-loving jets. We have turned into lunatics when it comes to our kids’ sports and I wonder where and when and how did we lose our way and our minds?
Granted, I am an older mom and grew up before the age of club sports – we played at the YMCA or in the cul-de-sac until we hit high school and then that’s where all of the sports happened. We were allowed to play as many as we wanted, provided we made the team. Sometimes seasons overlapped, but the school was mightier than the individual sport. When did this change?
And is this what caused us as parents to go a little bit bonkers? When did we start living for our kids and catering to them and thinking that what they want is what they must have?
I get it – I want my kids to be happy and have what they want. I hate for them to suffer or be sad or uncomfortable or disappointed. But also, I am the adult, and I KNOW FOR A FACT AND THROUGH EXPERIENCE that disappointment and struggle and adversity create confidence and strength and self-reliance.
My youngest daughter ran track this year. She’s very young for the team and is a distance runner. Before her first meet, I was telling her what she could expect and to treat the first meet as a practice, since in real practice they’d never staged their events. Since she was by far the youngest and would be running against high school students, I was trying to manage her expectations and let her know she could lose. Her only goal, she said, was not to come in last.
So then I told her about my track career.
Approximately 100 years ago, I “ran” track. Well, I actually jogged track if we’re going to be honest about it. I lost every. single. race. I. ever. ran jogged. And nobody cared. My times improved each event in each meet, and I’ve gone on to live a rich and full and wonderful life.
My parents were never embarrassed by it. (In fact, I don’t think they ever thought a second thing about it – maybe they weren’t even paying attention?) My friends never laughed at me. My brother never made fun of me. My coach never berated me.
I never felt bad about myself. I mean, yeah, I wish I hadn’t lost every single race. But I was slow. And someone is always going to be last. My times always improved, so I was getting faster, but so was everyone else. It was not the end of the world. And my parents weren’t involved or overly concerned.
Our oldest plays volleyball, both for her school and for a local club. Yes, I know – I’m feeding the machine I hate, which makes me salty at every tournament.
I see moms at the volleyball tournaments with matching shirts and professionally decorated cookies and catered platters and table decorations that are over the top (according to my meter). They talk about how much time and money they spent getting ready for the tournament and all the camps and all the academies and all the travel and all weekends spent apart from the rest of their family.
Australia vs. A Soccer Tournament
Someone I used to know years and years ago asked her Facebook world if she should skip a reward trip to Australia her husband won (which means he worked really hard all year to earn it) so she could stay home for her daughter’s soccer tournament. Her daughter was nine at the time. NINE. It was a reward trip – a FREE TRIP TO AUSTRALIA – vs. a nine-year old’s soccer tournament. And her Facebook people had to spend a LOT of time and energy to talk her into going. To Australia. For free.
I know the families who have spent so much money for travel or club sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball – you name it. Tens and thousands of dollars, time away from family, money not going into college accounts – some of these families are putting themselves into real debt – and I have to wonder: for what?
Yes, the kids may love the sport, but when did what the kids want usurp what was best for the family? The best gift we can give our kids is a strong family foundation and for parents to take care of themselves financially during retirement. Not families spending all their free time apart and parents scrambling to take care of themselves, because they spent their prime earning and saving years paying for tournaments halfway across the country.
When did we as parents and adults get over-invested in our kids? Is it the financial investment that has got us so caught up in it? Or the time, since we’re hauling them all over God’s green earth? And has our over-investment made us unhappy with kids that are just average athletes? Do we think it’s a reflection on us? On how much we love them? On how well we parent?
Is it because these kids and parents want college scholarships? Have they ever really looked at the numbers of high school athletes that become college athletes? It’s not a lot. According to the NCAA data for the 2016-2017 school year, less than 6% of female and male high school athletes play on any collegiate level (Divisions I, II, and III combined). These families are running themselves into the ground – financially and emotionally – for very slim odds.
I know a big part of the problem is the school coaches telling our kids that if they don’t play in the off season, they won’t make the team. In our case, our varsity coach owns the local club, so the implication is you’ve got to play (club) to play (at school). It’s extortion. How did we let this happen? When did the coaches get to run the school? It was before my time as a parent, but I’m guessing it was like boiling a frog, and we didn’t notice it was too late. But what do we do about it now?
If we stay so over-involved in our kids’ sports, we will inevitably insert ourselves in their ‘real’ lives, too – and boom! – here comes a college admissions scandal (literal or metaphorical) of our own, as we try and orchestrate and arrange and manipulate and fix things so they’re perfect.
Our job is to guide these kids into productive adulthood – and a big, important part of that process is them not getting their way, making mistakes, being disappointed, and finding contentment anyway. If we don’t help our kids with that, we are doing them a terrible disservice. And what kind of message does it send them? That we don’t think they can handle life on their own? Is that what we want them to believe? And then what? What if we get them into college? Do we go to class? Manage their work? Interview for a job? Show up for that job? Call their boss?
I think it’s time we back off our kids’ lives. Guide them, love them, help them, of course. But let’s step a bit away and not make their lives our lives. We shouldn’t be – or even want to be – primary players in their lives. If we are, how will they become productive, functioning adults?