Monday, June 22, 2015

Kids and Sports


I was a gymnast from the time I could walk, until I was 16 years old.  The only other sport I really ever did was dance, and that was because it was something that went hand in hand with gymnastics.  It was serious business and I was in the gym for around 25 hours a week for as many years as I can remember.  I truly did love the sport, so don't let this post make you think otherwise, but my heavy involvement and lack of being able to ever do anything else, is definitely something that influences the way I look at sports for my kids.  

The way kids were involved with most sports was a lot different when I was a kid, than it is for my kids now.  I say this with the exclusion of my gymnastics career, because that is a lot like the expectations of kids and sports today.  I feel like when I was growing up, that recreation sports were just that.  Recreation.  Today everything is a million times more competitive, and everyone starts involving their kids at much younger ages.  I know there was little league baseball, and soccer when I was little, but it wasn't a big deal and was mostly for fun.  Now, if you don't start your kid in soccer, t-ball, flag football, volleyball, or whatever other available activity made available from the time they are preschool aged, then you've done something wrong.  How will they ever get a college scholarship if they haven't been on the soccer field since the time they learned to run???  I have no doubt that there are people out there who truly believe that is the case.  People hand select their rosters for 7 year old baseball, softball, soccer, you name it.  Is it really necessary to dominate the rec league?  I'm sorry, but I'm also not going to pay any amount of money to send a five year old to a volleyball "skills" camp or whatever other nonsense there is for kids that age.  Plenty of people see value in things like this, but I am not one of them. The constant need to have kids involved in a structured activity makes me crazy, and I want no part of it. Send your kids out to the yard to play and kick a ball around, that's what they really need to be doing at that age.  I'll save my thoughts on the need to constantly entertain our kids for another post.  I'm sure this one will already be long enough.

I really started thinking about the insanity of all of this sports stuff last summer.  My son J was 10 years old, and completely obsessed with all things hockey.  For the record, depending on the time of year, he was already playing competitive club soccer, basketball, and baseball.  He talked to us about wanting to learn to play hockey and I actually had the thought "It might be too late for him to start, he's already 10."  What the??  10 is now too old to start a sport?  When I was a kid you tried new sports when you got to 7th grade and had school teams you could participate in.  Now, your kid joining a middle school team without ever having played the sport would blow everyone's minds.  Back to hockey... We'd gone ice skating a few months before my son asked about playing hockey, and to say he couldn't skate doesn't even cover it.  The kid couldn't go three feet without falling.  I'm not talking minor falls either, I mean he was full on wiping out every few steps.  He had a hockey stick and puck that he'd play with in the basement, but skating was not a skill he was even close to having down.  We decided that we weren't going to tell him no, and signed him up to start a skating skills class at our local ice haus.  He was twice the age and size of all the other kids in his class, but it didn't phase him.  He is an athletic and competitive kid, and he had his mind set on passing the three skating levels necessary to be able to play with a stick and puck.   I'm getting off track, but my point is, what in the hell is wrong with our society that I had to think twice about letting my son play a sport because age 10 is "too old to start".  We just hit the one year mark of him starting hockey, and the kid has absolutely blown my mind.  He is a goal scoring machine, dominates the games, has complete love for the sport, and is going to start competitive hockey (along with soccer, because they'll overlap a bit) this fall.  When I watch him play, I just know that this is his sport.  It fits his personality, he is really great at it, and he gets so pumped up for games.  What if I'd never let him give it a try?  By all other standards in this day and age, I shouldn't have because he hadn't followed the timeline of starting when he was in preschool.  I'm so proud of him for not paying attention to the fact that he was learning with kids half his age when he started, and that he just worked hard at something he loved.  None of those kids have advanced with him over the last year, and he now has joined the ranks of kids his own age.  He's a pretty kick ass kid, and to think that I hesitated before letting him give hockey a try because of his age makes me want to kick my own ass. 

I spent my entire youth in the same sport.  My mom let me try volleyball in 7th grade (after much begging and pleading), and I actually really liked it.  I ended up being way too tall for a gymnast, so volleyball would have probably been a pretty great sport for me, but I didn't get to keep at it.  I loved gymnastics, I really did, but as a kid I wanted to do all the things my friends were doing.  I feel like I missed out on so much because I was in such a specialized sport.  Gymnastics takes a huge commitment, and there just isn't time for anything else.  I practiced every day from 4-8pm and also on Saturday mornings, which doesn't leave any availability for other activities. Not only that, but I can't even count how many times I was told that other sports weren't a good idea because I could hurt myself, and if that were the case, my gymnastics would suffer.  I hated P.E. in school because I didn't know how to play softball, or soccer, or any of the things we did in class.  I always felt out of place and wished that I had gotten a chance to be on the fun teams with my friends. It is because of this, that I've always let my kids try whatever sports they want to.  With the exception of gymnastics, because let's be honest, I can barely get out of bed in the morning because my body thinks I'm 85 years old as a result of all my years in the gym.  I was so over committed to gymnastics, that I really have to think hard about my kids and what they do.  My husband on the other hand, grew up wanting to do a lot more, but getting really involved in sports wasn't something his parents were in to, so he didn't participate in much.  Don't worry about him though, he's making up for it as an adult who runs every race he can and is sponsored on a racing team.  We come from very different situations, and now we have to figure out how to balance me not wanting the kids too involved, and him wanting them to be involved in everything.  I'm trying to stick with the thought process of just letting them do whatever they want so long as I can manage the schedule.

Soccer season and baseball season always overlap for about 2-3 weeks each year, so my son misses a couple baseball practices while he wraps up his competitive soccer season. A couple of summers ago J had a baseball coach (mind you, this is in a recreational little league) who griped at him for missing a practice and said "You need to pick a sport, son."  I'm sorry, but at what point did we decide that at age 9, a child needs to determine what the only sport they are going to play from there on will be?  We never played on that guy's team again, and we've yet to "pick a sport."  J loves baseball, but wants to play other things, so we don't play year round competitive baseball like a lot of his friends do.  He does play competitive soccer for a couple of reasons.  One, he is really good at it, and two, there aren't really 11/12 year old recreation teams anymore because so many kids have "picked a sport."  If he wanted to stop, that would be his decision, and I'd have an extra chunk of money in my pocket each year, but he really loves to play.  I really don't see the value in limiting a young kid to one sport.  Physically, it is great for them to develop strengths that different sports provide.  Mentally, each sport requires a different level of focus and determination and I think they need to learn how to prepare and compete in different situations.  My little brother B is one of the best examples I can think of for why kids shouldn't pick just one sport.  That kid (I say kid, but he's 20 now) worked his ass off at every sport he's ever played.  He went through high school not just playing, but dominating every sport he played.  He ran cross country for a couple years, was the quarterback of the football team, one of the leading scorers on the basketball team, and an absolutely incredible baseball player.  He went through high school knowing he'd play a college sport and that it would just depend on which one would pay his way through school.  He went to junior college on a full ride for baseball, and now next year will be doing the same thing to finish college at a four year school on baseball scholarship.  I truly believe that he is such an incredible athlete because he played all the sports.  The mentality of making a kid choose a specialty by the time they are 10 years old is totally nuts.  You risk completely burning those kids out in a few years, at which point they'll quit and not have anything else they are interested in.  The stress and pressure this puts on kids is not healthy, and there is really not a point.  Why can't we just let our kids play sports because they love them?  

I don't really know how all of this developed.  You would think that all of the people my age with kids, would remember how much fun they had playing rec sports when they were little and would want their kids to have the same fun.  Instead, we now have to have signs like this posted at games...

I mean come on people, we need reminders of this?  There was actually a fight between parents a couple of years ago at the baseball fields here.  We now have rules stating you can not speak to the umpires during the game, and if you have a certain amount of incidents then you will be banned from the fields.  I can't even believe rules like that need to be in place.  When I was in high school I went to watch my younger brothers play baseball games almost every day all summer long.  The games were fun to watch, the kids enjoyed playing, and there was no nonsense.  It is something I remember so fondly, and it kills me that summer ball games aren't like that anymore.  Is it really too much to ask that people start acting like grown ups, stop living vicariously through their kids, and just sit and enjoy watching them play sports?  I mean, really.  


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