Wide World of (Too Many) Sports

joshfootballI was flying, staring up at the sky, sailing through the air. Well maybe not flying, more like falling. I landed flat on my back on the damp brown infield dirt with a thud. A dozen five-year-olds gathered around me, their mouths hung open in surprise. A dozen parents looked up and chuckled as I recovered and quickly picked myself up off the ground. The tee ball coach isn’t supposed to slip on a baseball and topple like a tree. “Did you do that on purpose, Dad?” My son looked up at me with a confused grin. Not exactly, I explained and quickly tried to get back to the grounder practice.

While that was the first time that I’ve been flat on my back this spring, I feel like I’m taking a beating. For the first time, all three of our boys are playing baseball. At the same time. On three different teams. The two older ones were supposed to be on the same team this year, but that would have been too easy, so the league decided to change the division ages just to keep us hopping. It’s been challenging and more than a bit tiring for Mommy and I, carting everyone to practices and games galore.

I had to finally back off on coaching each boy this year. I figured my youngest deserved to have Dad be his coach as he starts out in tee ball just like his older brothers did, so I’m committing my time there and then helping out with the other two as my remaining schedule permits. I will admit, I’ve battled sneaking feelings that I’m letting them down, but realistically I know they’ll be fine in other coaches hands. After my graceful fall at tonight’s tee ball practice, we’ll see if my youngest votes to keep me around!

The schedule of three kids age five to ten has highlighted the reality of not being able to do it all. Whether it’s extra activities, cub scouts, travel teams, or a dozen other competing items for our kids’ attention, our family often has to say no. I’ve stuck to a policy of one sport per season for my boys, because of the simple scheduling issues, but also from a developmental standpoint of not wanting them to be burned out or face overuse injuries. But it’s harder to enforce that it sounds. Everywhere we turn, our young kids are pushed to do more and more.

In our middle class suburban community, but I’d guess in a lot of other places too, there’s just too much going on. My wife shared with me two articles that she saw online just tonight that speak to this issue. In, The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports, the author suggests that, “the path is a race to nowhere, and it does not produce better athletes. It produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether.” Another article is by ER doctor Louis M. Profeta, Your kid and my kid are not playing in the prosargues that families are driven by a fear of sending their kids into a deep spiral of failure by not doing everything they can to help them excel and be the best. I guess that partially depends on what one believes makes a success and a failure. My friend Julie Farley recently blogged about her struggle with being “that Mom” who has to raise her hand and say no as she manages her family of four kids and their deluge of competing interests.

I agree, there comes a point where we just have to say enough and stand firm despite what pressures come at us from inside (our own fears or kids begging) and outside (what everyone else is doing). Life’s too short, and our children only have a precious few years to be kids. It’s easy to write, but it’s a daily struggle. It’s harder than I thought it would be. But I think it’s worth it. Sure, we might miss out on a travel team, or an out-of-state tournament, but there’s something to be said for spending time together as a family, broadening one’s horizons with a mix of experiences and activities, and maybe actually getting a good night’s sleep. And one day, I think even the kids might appreciate having had a few of those boundaries too.

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Time Travel to Now

IMG_7333Today my middle son turns nine. Yesterday he and I ran a 5K together. I’m not sure if his sticking with me stride for stride had more to do with his prowess or my decline, but either way I was proud of him (that was the second time he’s done that!). He is surely the most determined person in our family, with the possible exception of our dog Charlie when he doesn’t want to be brought inside the house and someone pulls into the driveway and he makes me chase him for 10 minutes around the yard like a fool in front of the visitor. In the race, my son told me that he set goals and he met them all – running the entire time and beating me. In a different setting I call that his stubbornness and it can just about send me over the edge, but perhaps out in the real world it’s not such a bad thing. I’m not sure where he gets it from, but I don’t think it’s me.

Last night my wife and I watched a romantic comedy she picked up at Redbox called About Time. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than it had something to do with time travel and it had Rachel McAdams in it. I kept confusing it with The Time Travelers Wife, but apparently that is another one. This ended up being a bit like a movie I really like, Notting Hill (same director), but with the slight twist of time travel to mix it up a bit. It was a cute movie but what I took away from it was the idea that at the end of the day, when your years are mostly behind you, perhaps the time that one might want to travel back to the most is when your kids are young and still want to walk with you along the beach, still hold your hand when you cross the street, and tuck them into bed with a hug and a kiss. What hit me as the movie closed, was that time is now.

It’s a lot easier to get caught up in the madness, which at first glance seems to be constant. The yelling, the three conversations at once, the constant complaining and arguing. The resisting, the pushing, the defying the boundaries. That tends to wear us down and dull our senses to the sparkle of it all.

If you had the chance to soak in every day, to, in the form of the movie, go back again and do each day over again so that you weren’t overwhelmed and caught off guard by every little moment, but rather know what was coming and recognize the magic in each occurrence and savor it – wouldn’t that be an amazing thing. I’d sign up for that in a second, rather than just letting so much pass us by, too caught up in the bustle to breathe it all in.

Obviously, the movie is just fiction and in the real world we must take things as they come, but I wonder if it might just work to try to take a step back, get a little distance from the mayhem, and just open wide our eyes a bit more and soak things in before they all are past us in a moment.

As I played outside with my son and a few of his friends this afternoon in a beautiful 65 degree March Virginia day, I tried to do that. When he woke up this morning, I talked to him in his bed. He told me he dreamed that the whole day went by and no one remembered his birthday. I told him that wasn’t true and it was just a dream. He looked up at me and gave me a big hug. “I know, Dad, it’s already different.” I think this could be one of those time travel days that I’d come back to again and again.

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