The Insanity of Kids’ Sports

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Yesterday was the second day of school. It was also the day that Nib had to choose between attending his first travel soccer practice or the tryout for the fall baseball travel team. (“But baseball is a spring sport?” you say, if you’re an adult and remember the days when every sport ran for about 2 ½ – 3 months and the rest was the “off-season.” Not anymore.)

AND SO IT BEGINS.

I’m not sure my kids fully grasp how different the World of Youth Sports & Activities is than when I was a kid. I’ve told them about how I played softball once a week and spent the other hundreds of hours of my free time playing in the nasty, damp, mosquito-invested “fort” my neighborhood friends and I created under my family’s deck. (If West Nile had been a thing back then, we’d be dead.) But they still don’t really get it. So, I wrote them this letter to tell them about it. And of course, I used the phrase, “When I was your age…” BECAUSE I RELISH BEING AN OLD LADY WHO ALSO USES WORDS LIKE “RELISH.”

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Dear Kids,

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE… (I just really think it works here) the World of Youth Sports & Activities was very different than it is now. It wasn’t even a “world,” it was just games you played with some friends in the same town, at your local field, maybe wearing the same color t-shirt… and then maybe throw in a dance class.

Sure, we had soccer, but I never played because get this – not EVERY KID tried soccer. I KNOW! I played softball, but it was a relaxed, weekly gathering of “Red” vs “Orange” and mostly an excuse to hang out with friends. I’m sure there were games and I’m pretty sure they all happened at the high school field one mile from my house. I was also a cheerleader for the Pee Wee football team and if I remember correctly, we practiced for one hour a week at the community center and then jumped around on the track during the Broncos football games on Saturday mornings.

My siblings had sports and activities, too so it wasn’t like we were sitting around playing Frogger all the time. (Google it.) Granted, I wasn’t a parent then and I also wasn’t a particularly overly-involved kid BUT in my memory, it was all much more relaxed. (More relaxed in the 70s? SHOCKING.)

Quick side note: last time I mentioned to my kids that I grew up in the 70s, HD said, “Wait, the 1870s??” #mymathgenes

OK, back to sports. Let’s break down where I see the biggest differences.

#1. The Quantity of Options. There is a seemingly endless supply of sport and activity choices available for young kids these days. Soccer, baseball/softball, football, ballet and gymnastics have always been around, but NOW we’ve added lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey, martial arts, wrestling, flag football, hip hop and rugby to the mix… for 7-year-olds!

When I was a kid, I took a dance class that combined ballet, tap and BATON TWIRLING into one 45-minute class a week. Now, parents spend a fortune specializing for their six-year-olds. (Admittedly, I haven’t seen a baton twirling class lately, but then again I HAVEN’T REALLY LOOKED.)

Wait, what about the theater classes! When I was growing up, “drama” was just what happened when my Mom wouldn’t bring me to the mall. I don’t know anyone under the age of well, college, who took acting classes. Yet, just last week I signed HD up for a class called “Acting for Film & TV.” I’M NOT EVEN JOKING. HD is going to learn how to be a soap opera star.

<smh>

(That means “shaking my head” for those of you 1,000 years older than me.)

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Doing their drama.

#2. SEASONS. There are none anymore. ALL sports get played ALL year! The schedulers do their best to avoid conflicts, but some are inevitable. We try to prioritize the sport that would be “in season” if you guys were in high school, i.e. soccer in the fall, baseball in the spring but it’s not always possible. We’d love for you to be able to take a season off, but then we have to worry about you “falling behind” and not making the team the following season/year. This is really, really true. Nib tried lacrosse in second grade and didn’t like it because the Kindergartners and first graders in his group were already so much better than him.

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#3. The Post-Travel Leagues. We have Rec sports. We have Travel sports. And now we have Premier leagues in sports like baseball and soccer. It’s very possible these always existed, and I was just never good enough to play on any of them but it’s all very complicated and I still don’t really understand how any of it works. All I know is that you have to drive even further for the practices, games and tournaments.

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Participation trophy! Another thing that’s changed… but that’s for another letter.

#4. The Schedules. Let’s break it down. This fall, HD has soccer practice on Tuesdays at 4:15, but it overlaps with CCD (religious ed) so we’re going to have to figure something out there. Nib and LO both have soccer practice on Wednesdays and Fridays but at different times in different places. HD has his Soap Opera class on Thursday afternoons at the same time as Nib’s practice and since I haven’t figured out the whole cloning thing yet, THAT’S gonna be tricky. (Is 9 years old too young for Uber?)

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Run fast! We have to get to soccer!

Nib also wants to play baseball so that’ll be practices two days a week, fingers crossed for Monday and Thursday. HD soccer game’s on Sat morning and the two older kids will also play on Saturdays in something called the CT Cup, which lasts until they lose. (Is it wrong to hope for a loss on week one? Asking for a friend.) Two more soccer games on Sunday and if the Nib makes the team, two baseball games as well. LO will start play practice soon and that schedule will change weekly. And then we have the occasional weekends that are consumed with tournaments and/or theater performances.

PHEW.

Quick PSA: Audiobooks. I like music and podcasts, but audio books have been the best discovery for the 8,491 hours I spend in the car all week.

#5. The Tournaments. There is more than one for every sport and just when you think you have your driving schedule and carpools in place, the tournament comes along and screws up your whole weekend. I posted this picture last year of what our calendar looked like during one soccer tournament weekend.

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Kids, I know this sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not, really. We love that you guys are busy and active, and we are VERY, VERY fortunate to have all of this stuff available to us. Although, I will admit to being happy that none of you want to play ice hockey because I’ve heard those bags are super smelly.

You keep running and dribbling and singing and catching and kicking and acting and scoring and swinging and I’ll just keep driving. And cheering. And yelling inappropriately from the sidelines. Even though you hate that.

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Love you,

Mom

PS. Full disclosure, I did take an after-school enrichment class on CALLIGRAPHY when I was in fourth grade. I just really felt like I should admit that.

11 responses »

  1. With all of your spare time, you REALLY ought to consider going back to your humor column gig at the Daily News…or was it the Post? Either way, you are a total riot, while neither exaggerating nor fabricating!! I love reading these things!

    You referred to participation trophies…well, I hate to brag, but I think that I STARTED that whole thing in Montville around ‘75 or ‘76. Yep, I was a Litttle League Manager (not just a coach – sorry Neil) for Tom’s team. Under gifted leadership, the team soared to a 5 wins, 7 loss record to Tom’s dismay. He accused me of not being tough enough(!) and I bought every kid on the team a trophy for presentation at the obligatory season-end BBQ. (The tough part was coming with all the titles for each kid: best hitter, best pitcher, best fielder – they were easy; most improved, best power hitter, best left-handed hitter, etc. – a little lame; most improved, best team spirit, best right-handed left fielder……downright shameless, and still 4 or 5 to go!)

    Ah, memories!

    Thanks for the stories….and the memories.

    Dad

  2. I’m still miffed about the whole “it’s supposed to be fun” thing … for those that missed it, here’s an extract from Krissy’s book about my Dad:

    But the coup de grace in his coaching approach was the end of the year team barbecue. Held annually at our house, it was a mini-celebration for another 6-6 campaign. There would be various competitions and then the usual hamburgers and hot dogs, followed by the handing out of the official end-of-season awards. Long before this became the perfunctory societal norm, my Dad invented “every kid gets a trophy”. Moreover, they were customized awards. If you were not the “Most Outstanding Hitter” or “Best Pitcher”, you were clearly meritorious of a “Best Efforts” trophy or a “Most Improved” award (hey, that throw got closer to third base than at the beginning of the season). Didn’t take the bat off your shoulder all season – no worries, you were clearly the “Best Teammate”. Parents beamed. I didn’t understand it at all.

    -TJM

  3. So funny and so true. Welcome back to the post! I missed it and you. I hope you are starting to write more. I love the responses!! They are hilarious! I’m still living through all the schedules and games from my grandchildren. Best time of their lives and parents too! It is all in fun and the love of being active and social. I loved the games.

  4. This was hilarious… mainly because I’m living it too! You should count your blessings that your kids never took up track. That’s four hours of watching kids go around in a circle, only to watch your kid for 22.4 seconds…. literally! I always teach my kids to never quit anything, but when my daughter said she was one and done with track (and softball, lacrosse, gymnastics, tennis, soccer – clearly, my athletic jeans)…. I did not argue! And btw – I took that baton twirling class too, which was awesome! Shame they did away with it. I’m guessing it’s a liability thing now – ha!

  5. Sorry to bust a bubble, but Tom didn’t invent that participation trophy thing. In the mid 1950’s a Catholic grammar school in Brooklyn gave EVERY graduating 8th grader (due to a cheating scandal initiated by one avaricious student) the General Excellence Medal. I am reasonably sure the Participation Trophy idea was born there.

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