We are not a very sporty family at this point. It seemed like everyone I knew played sports growing up, so I played some too, but wasn’t what I would call “athletic.” Now, I enjoy being outside, but I don’t watch sports on TV or play any team or individual sports.
Still, I want my kids to explore their athletic side so I picked up Revolution in the Bleachers: How parents can take back family in a world gone crazy over youth sports because I saw it at the library and it looked interesting. The thesis of Revolution in the Bleachers is that parents or coaches are sometimes losing sight of the positive goals of playing individual or team sports, like learning about winning and losing, developing social, physical, and leadership skills, and just having fun and getting outside. Instead some parents and coaches are taking a winning-at-all-costs approach which is driving kids and families to be over-scheduled, over-worked, and emotionally drained and all for what? The small chance of winning any athletic scholarship or making a living as an athlete?
Surprisingly, reading this book got me thinking about a lot of parenting issues outside of decisions about sports. Here are my key takeaways:
When you make any investment of money or your family’s time, think about what you hope to achieve and decide if it is worth the cost.
As we make decisions about the ultimate size of our family, I think about the choices we will have to make about activities. Right now, I don’t see an extra $200 a month materializing to cover sports, scouting, music lessons, gymnastic, swimming lessons, dance lessons and other activities for multiple children at a time. We will have to pick and choose. This book also made me think about those investments in terms of time. How many directions can our family be pulled with multiple evening commitments per week? I hope that my children can have a fun time playing sports and doing other activities, but if the time commitment is too great or if they aren’t having fun because of a coach who cares about winning over character development, then it is all right to opt out of the activity. I won’t be robbing my children, but instead will be allowing our family to invest its efforts in experiences that are worth it.
At the extreme, Revolution in the Bleachers describes families where children are specializing in a single sport at the age of 8 or 9 to then play that sport year-round spending thousands of dollars per year on sports fees, personal trainers, summer camps, and travel costs for the family. Moreover, family time is destroyed as one parent travels with the child many weekends and holidays and family dinner time is rarely observed. Whether soccer, spelling bees, piano lessons, or beauty pageants, I can’t imagine what end result would be worth such an investment if it were at the cost of my sons’ childhoods and our family life.
Doing structured activities can benefit your child AND not doing structured activities can benefit your child.
Of course I think about the opportunities I want to give my children. Although I usually think of opportunities as “things to do” like lessons or travel experiences, reading this book reminded me that giving children down time and free time is also an opportunity. I spent hours and hours outside as a youngster: exploring nature, playing ball games with my neighbors, reading, or playing make believe with my sister. I hope my children can enjoy the same opportunities. I think there are skills and life lessons that can only be learned when children guide their own activities as opposed to showing up to participate in activities organized by adults.
Children are people, not projects.
This one kind of hit me hard. I take my parenting choices very seriously. Sometimes I confuse the desire to give my children the opportunity to flourish as well-rounded, happy adults with my desire to have “done a great job” as a parent. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t want to do a good job. Instead, I’m saying that doing a good job should involve me growing as a person and learning how to be the best parent I can be, and should NOT be focused on what my children can achieve. There is a big part of me that is convinced that great parents should raise happy kids, but reading Revolution in the Bleachers made me see the danger in this thinking. Being attached to your children’s performance, whether at piano, soccer, or life generally, puts too much pressure on them and isn’t a good example of the kind of unconditional love I’m shooting for. I still want my children to be successful and I hope they are wildly so. But signing them up for sports or nurturing their creative side or giving them amazing learning opportunities should be to help them develop as wonderful people because I love them, and not to develop them as wonderful people so I can feel good about myself.
What about you? How do you decide what amount of structured activities are right for your child?