I 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 pros, argues 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.