Wrote this a year ago. Needs to be said again.
Well it’s here again. I’m actually knee-deep in it. It’s ball season.
This is the time of the year when my sanity is really challenged. With a daughter in softball and a son in baseball, my calendar looks more like a game show challenge than commitments made by responsible adults. Added to this, the reward my husband gets for volunteering his time as a baseball coach is the mandate to umpire 9 additional games to the 18 that his team will be playing. Needless to say, just about every night is busy.
Often, we are double-booked and I go one way with Zaidee while Matt and Haydn zoom off to their game. When it works out that we can all go to the games, Matt is an assistant coach for Zaidee’s team as well. This can cause some stress, as we don’t have much time together. I’m still trying to pull off a healthy family dinner each evening, but this has to be a creative endeavor. We may eat at 4:30 in a rush, or I’m packing wraps for us to have picnic style on the field. The table talk has suffered for sure.
Keeping up with regular life during this season is a bit of a challenge as well. One thing that I particularly struggle with is hospitality. As the weather is warming up, our list grows of people we’d like to have over for a cook-out or evening around the fire pit. But we can barely get the grass mowed. And then there’s the spring planting, mulching, and gardening that we used to love to do together. Now we find ourselves outside working in the rain because it’s the only free time we have.
I struggle terribly with my attitude this time of year. Watching my kids play is awesome. I get into the games just like everyone else, and get to know some new parents each year. Matt and I are active people and love the benefits a sports team provides: discipline, fitness, team work, conflict resolution, handling failure and success, encouragement, excelling at something you’re good at, improvement from hard work, dealing with difficult people, and respecting your coach. This is why we participate.
But every year gets a little harder on me as my kids are growing and the expectations on them raise. I can’t help but wonder what the heck ever happened to good old backyard ball. Back in the day, the kids organized games with those that were in a bike ride’s distance. I wonder how the invention of the automobile changed things. At what point did parent’s and marketing take a hold of the game?
In 1938, a man named Carl Stotz organized the first Little League in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to promote good sportsmanship, team work, and fair play as qualities leading to good citizenship. The first Little League sponsorship of $30 paid for all the equipment and uniforms for three teams.
Here I am paying $15 for socks. Aside from equipment and uniforms, we have team pictures, 45 minute drives to away games on school nights, concession stand sign ups, all-stars, and all that jazz. I am actually typing while swatting away bugs at Zaidee’s practice.
But now Little League, with all its demands, is no longer good enough. We keep getting the pressure to go the travel team route. Any child that shows athletic prowess is pressured to ditch community ball, or add travel to their already loaded schedule. Aside from the incredible costs, every weekend is spent on the road. Although Matt and I haven’t gone this route, it is astonishing to us how parents automatically think this is just what we are supposed to do. It is the same for our daughter’s volleyball team. And since our oldest is now playing for the high school, we are investing in camps and months of pre-season conditioning as well. Her “starting position” and playing time may be threatened because she didn’t play travel during the off-season.
All this makes me wonder what it is we expect from our kids these days. Apparently they can be dependents without a job, staying on our health insurance policies until they are 26 years old. But they have faux sports careers as preteens and high school students. Parents think nothing of dropping $250 for a pair of shoes, dedicating endless hours to fundraising, centering their own social life around their child’s athletic achievement, and gauging their own success as a parent on their kid’s high school athletic career. How many of these children will really be getting scholarships for their skills? And what are we spending to get them?
I’ve also been thinking about the whole invention of adolescence and how this new category has changed the expectations that we place on our teenagers. Responsibility has turned into the ability to find a sober ride home, or keeping embarrassing pictures off the internet. The pressure is to keep the grade point average and the batting average in the competitive zone.
Of course, as Christians we have different expectations. Right now I find myself struggling between teaching my kids that their identity and acceptance is not based on their achievements, but on their election in Christ before time ever began, and cheering them on in American sports. As a parent I am wondering how much of my own social life I should sacrifice on the altar of my child’s. How many cheapened family meals can we endure before the family cracks? How many more hustled bedtimes and tired conversations trying to catch up with my husband can I take? When do the parents cross the line and begin sending the wrong message that their children’s lives are what give them their meaning and value?
I think we have terribly swollen the original goals of raising good citizens by teaching our children sportsmanship, teamwork, and fair play. We seem to have made our children objects of glory. I find myself constantly having to combat the message that my kids are to be on a perpetual pursuit of gain and recognition. Somewhere we’ve turned the corner into raising little professionals.