I went to a parent meeting for the high school girls’ soccer team this weekend. I paid for uniforms, “met” the coaches, and learned what it will mean for my eldest to play for her school.
But I hadn’t always assumed that day would come. In fact, for the last week during tryouts I sweated decisions
we made about sports for our kids.
Because for the past 7 or 8 years I have pushed back against the industry that is club sports and that I believe too often manipulates parents’ fears for the financial gain of its operators. I campaigned for a more laid back approach to childhood where kids aren’t “molded” into superstars through costly channels. And I was about to eat my words… Or not.
Yes, our daughter made the team. Though she didn’t get a top-tier slot, we’re pleased with the outcome relative to what she has put into soccer thus far. I thought this might be a good time to share a little bit about our non-intensive sports experiment. Here’s a recap of what we did and did not do.
- give in to the pressure of a club coach who scouted our daughter on the soccer field in second grade and promised us that she wouldn’t make the high school team if she didn’t sign up for club level that year. His blatant play on our fears was what opened my eyes and set me off on my course of pressing back against the cultural establishments that raise the bar so high at great expense to players and their parents.
- avoid club sports altogether. My daughter was intimidated by the intensity of club play as a second grader. But by fourth grade she wanted to give it a shot. And a less expensive club option came up. So she joined a team for two seasons. And then played on her junior high basketball team and ran track. Ultimately she found another soccer team to play on concurrent with her school sports.
- focus on playing year round – for any of our three girls playing soccer. Even though all three have been standouts on the field and could advance with continuous training, none of us appreciated the lack of downtime. The cost of burnout outweighed the benefits in my mind. Some kids may be able to handle it (although research indicates their bodies may not). Mine preferred a break. So we have always taken breaks from everything – sports and other extracurriculars.
- pressure our kids to excel. Although I won’t say I have never been tempted. When your child is scouted by a club coach or praised for their abilities, it’s easy to want to see them develop more and go further. Which can make a parent pushy. I have learned to temper my desire to see them succeed and go beyond the ordinary with a desire to honor their wishes. While I don’t always execute it well, I try to be encouraging and suggest options without ever forcing it.
- encourage sports and being active. Whatever our girls have shown an interest in (within reason), we have signed them up for. And when they’ve tended toward coach potato behavior, we have guided them back into finding clubs and sports to join.
- fuss at our kids to practice at home and work on the skills being taught by coaches. Only so much happens in a big group of kids during an hour or so practice. Every coach has asked for short practice sessions at home. We have always tried to have our kids respect that request. It hasn’t always worked out, but the aim is there.
- relish time together as a family. When my kids weren’t busy we made sure that we were doing things as a family – often at home. We played games, did housework, and just hung out together. And we also kept the in-season schedules simple enough that most of the time we could be at games together to cheer on whoever was playing. Obviously a high school sports schedule is going to change that some.
I’m not saying that our decision not to follow the intense year-round club avenue is the best for everyone. I’m not going to say our choices got her on the team or even that she’ll play on a high school team beyond her freshman year (although, after the parent meeting, I’m hopeful). I’m also not in a place to say that club level play would have guaranteed anything either. I do realize our high school’s team benefits from excellent players trained through club involvement – I just wish for all of our sakes the stakes weren’t so high and invoked at such a young age.
What I will say is that none of us regret our decisions about sports. Our schedule has generally been stress-free because of our choices. I can count on one hand the number of times my girls ate a meal in the car between events. Plus we haven’t shelled out thousands of dollars to “invest” in our kids’ sports careers. We also never made a decision for our kids based on fears for their future. We prayed for wisdom to make sound choices. We trusted God to go before them and make a way. We put family above the individual.
Looking back and considering where we are today, I’d say on many metrics, our experiment was a success.
Photo credit: Stewart Seman