If you have kids with any interest in sports, most of us dip our toes in with a rec league. If you’re like me, you start with Soccer Shots at age 2, mostly for laughs. Have you ever seen ten 2-year-olds at “practice”? I mean you could start a reality show, it is so good.
As they get older, you start to hear the whispers about the elusive travel sports. I knew very early on that I was more of a rec sport mother. For the business and unpredictability of our lifestyle, one-hour practice and one-hour games for 6–8 weeks was the sweet spot. As my son got older and more athletic, this world got closer and closer. As I explained that maybe middle school would be a good time to start, eyes got bigger and wider.
And then it happened. I’m still not sure how we got here. After a successful flag football season, our friend from the team mentioned signing up to play basketball with their son. This would be a new sport for us, so I was ready to ease in as we do all sports. We signed up for a rec team not knowing that this team uses the rec league as a warmup for the AAU season.
As my son’s skills increased and the bond with his teammates grew, the inevitable question happened. “Mom, can I play AAU with them? Please, I really want to.” Ugh, that face. His wonderful teammates. Their amazing parents. We were sucked in. I had been pre-warned from our years in rec sports about travel sports. I was told about the time commitment. I was told about the financial burden. I was told about the emotional toll it may take on the whole family. I was also forewarned about the high-stakes atmosphere that can take an emotional toll on my son. I felt a bit overwhelmed and slightly underprepared, but here we were, ready to take it on.
And then… something I was not warned about smacked me in the face only one month in. Oh, my goodness. These parents are crazy! Not like, “Yay, I’m so crazy about my kid, and I can’t wait to cheer them on!” That type of zealousness I can handle. I mean, these people have allowed sports to warp their entire minds. I was a competitive gymnast and cheerleader. I supported my husband as he rose to the top of his ranks in his field of sports. I’ve been on many ends of the sports world, but being a parent is an entirely different ballgame.
My husband and I are both of the “play multiple sports, learn the game, and fall in love” tribe of thought. We entered the world of “win by any means necessary,” and it has been a sight to see. The number of adult tantrums I have witnessed in the last few months has been unreal. I have seen coaches almost come to blows. I have had to advocate (read: remind someone I am not the one) for my family in instances where parents were yelling obscenities at our team of 8- and 9-year-olds. After many games, we spent more time reiterating our values and reminding our kids that how they witnessed adults acting is not okay than talking about the actual game. I just keep imagining how it will be as they get older and the outcome of the games may matter as it relates to scholarships, etc.
At the end of the day, even at its highest level, it will always be just a game. We cannot live through our kids. And as much as we want to believe it will happen, many kids will not make it to that highest level. That doesn’t mean that you let your foot off the gas, it just gives you perspective to realize that so much of sports should be about being active for better health, learning lifelong skills like the fruits of hard labor and dedication, how to be a great team player, and creating amazing memories with family and friends. If we can keep those things as the center and driving force, we would really be doing greater good for all involved. Who is willing to join me?