Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Parenting Choices - Kid Sports

After a great response to our last Parenting Choices post,  Ashlen and I are sharing our differing opinions on signing kids up for sports teams.  Like so many parenting topics, there is a lot of passion when it comes to "what's right" for kids.  Ashlen and I fully embrace the 'you do what's right for you and your family' approach, and simply want to share our opinions and what led us to those opinions. 

Lauren's View:
You wouldn't know by looking at me, but I come from a very athletically involved family.  My parents met when my dad volunteered to coach a woman's fast pitch rec league.  I think it was my mom's refusal to slide so as to not end up with road rash, that sparked the love connection.  Ancient history aside (sorry mom!), we grew up going to my cousins' football and basketball games in their small town, and when I was an appropriate age, I was signed up for soccer.  As the only girl on this 6-year old co-ed team, I quickly figured out that soccer wasn't my sport.  I'm not sure my mom's insistence that I wear tights with little hearts on them under my shorts that cold spring helped much either, but I digress.

I played softball from the ages of 7-13, stopping before entering high school.  I was an average (at best) player, but almost always had fun. My dad was almost always my coach or assistant coach, and in hindsight, I realize that was really his strength as a parent.  He might not have known our bath time routines, nor made dinner like mom "that's not how mom does it..." but he was always generous with his time when it came to sports.  Playing catch every night, encouraging me but not sugar coating his advice.  I can't think of a single game or practice that he missed, setting aside his own activities.  Every practice and game also had my mom and younger sister in the stands, cheering me on.  It was no surprise when my sister started playing at the age of four or five, and her quickly developing skills resulted in her consistently playing above her age range and in competitive traveling teams.  As a 13 year old, she was getting paid to catch for an elite pitcher's private practice.  To this day she plays in four or five rec volleyball leagues, and occasionally softball tournaments; keeping sports as a lifelong exercise activity.

My sister around 6 or 7 years old
My sister crushing it in High School
My parents encouraged me to play high school ball, I knew I was in over my head.  I think they may have been a little disappointed, but still showed the same support and enthusiasm when I joined marching band.

As a kid, I can't say I fully realized the benefits from playing sports - specifically team sports.  Here are some of my reason why I think organized team sports benefit kids.

  • Team mentality - Team sports teach you that you win as a team and you lose as a team.  One awesome player is not going to carry a team.  Kids need to know that it's okay to lose, that the important part is trying your hardest.  You may not be best friends with every person on the team, just like in the real world.
  • Practicing pays off - School and sports both require kids practice to improve.  As a kid, I couldn't always see my math or spelling skills improving real-time, but in sports, my parents were quick to point out anytime my practicing paid off when I hit the ball farther or ran faster.  
  • Focus their energy - There are some kids who just have excess energy to burn.  Maybe they are having trouble focusing or sitting still in the classroom?  Maybe they can seem to run without stopping?  A sport (even individual sports like martial arts or gymnastics) can help kids gain focus and burn off extra energy.  I believe it was a Shawn Johnson interview I read where she said nowadays, she might have been diagnosed with ADHD, instead her parents enrolled her in dance and gymnastics to help burn off that energy.  If I had a child facing similar struggles, I'd like to think I'd consider a sport or activity to focus that energy on before seeking or in conjunction with a pharmacological solution.
  • Friends for Life - As an adult in my early 30s, I'm still super close with several people I played softball with when I was eight or nine years old.  Seriously!  
  • No quitters - Yep, sports can be hard.  So can life.  One rule my parent had was there was no quitting mid-season.  Lost every game so far?  Keep practicing.  It's too hot out?  Keep playing.  We don't quit in the middle of a commitment.  Same with jobs, projects, and activities as adults.
With all these benefits, I totally agree there are many reasons not to sign up kids in sports (expenses, overly competitive parents, spending every weekend at the field, etc.) and fully believe you have to make the right decision for you and your family.

Ashlen's View:
I'm going to start with saying that I completely agree with Lauren's viewpoint. Sports or any organized activity are hugely beneficial for kids of all ages, but they are not for our family at this point and time. I will get to my reasoning in a moment.

Much like Lauren, I played sports when I was younger. When I was a toddler until I was in first grade I took dance lessons. From fourth to eighth grade I played softball and basketball. I wasn't great. I remember several times I shot at the wrong basket during a basketball game because I totally wasn't paying attention (this no longer shocks me or anyone who knows me). But I kept at it because I genuinely enjoyed playing with my teams and staying active. My senior year of high school I took a gym class called Lifetime Sports. In that semester I learned the ins and outs of golf and bowling. When I was 18 I took up running. Through high school, college, and adult years, I have taken interests in football, hockey, and have learned about all types of sports. Yes, I gained valuable lessons from each sport and activity. It was at that point and time that I vowed my kids would grow up learning about every sport. I have maintained that vow, just in a unique way.
Most people go about signing their kids up for clinics and entire seasons in various sports. I have taught my kids what I know. I have bought basketball hoops, hockey nets and sticks, soccer balls and nets, baseballs and gloves, tennis rackets, volleyball nets, and more. Before I spend hundreds of dollars to get them involved in a season of whatever sport, I want to make sure they'll like it and I won't hear 'I don't wanna go!' whenever a practice or a game comes about. They have done a few short sport clinics through various organizations, but haven't done an entire season of any one sport.

Until my kids have chosen a sport or activity they love, I won't push them into it. Here are a few of my reasons why:

  • I feel kids, especially younger kids, are so over scheduled and so over booked that they're missing out on important pieces of childhood. I've seen kids learn more freely kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard with friends than they would during any soccer season. Learning how to move their bodies, running, and discovering are a huge part of childhood development that too many kids miss out on when their parents insist on dance lessons, soccer practice, baseball, and art classes all in one season.
  • I refuse to be one of those parents who spend their nights and evenings driving their kids all over, going from activity to activity, hitting up drive thru's because there's only a few minutes in between practices and games to get food. While I'm not opposed to a drive thru cheeseburger every now and then, I can't imagine being so busy from sun up to sun down that there's no time to actually enjoy my kids while they're kids. Maybe in the future this will be us, but as I've said in the beginning, this is not the lifestyle I see for us at this time.
  • During the school year, I feel their main focus should be school followed by family time. Active family time. Between school and family time, there's not always a lot of extra time. Call me selfish, but I'm not willing to sacrifice important family time, especially during the school year. I do actually do things with my children when they are not in school, we're rarely sitting around bored. Next school year my elementary age kids will begin piano lessons and will also take one sports clinic in either the spring or the fall (it's their choice). The clinics will teach them how to play a sport of their choice, for one hour, one afternoon on the weekend. I feel strongly that this does not cut into any family time and will not impact any school activities or functions that happen during that time and they will still have plenty of free time to play.
  • I keep my kids active when they are home with me. On the weekends we explore nature, our state history, parks, etc. During school breaks and during the summer, I keep them more active with activities at home than sometimes their school does. We do theme days, we do field days, we do sports day to learn about all sports, we have races. After 10 hours a day spent running around with a large group of kids (and friends they've been raised with), I can't imagine having them put on a pair of cleats to go play baseball. I strongly feel like they're already getting an advantage that other kids are not: they're learning how to play together, they're learning how to play all different sports (and more), they're able to practice as much as they like, and they're getting plenty of exercise and movement all day long. They're learning all the values sports provide through all of our activities and games we play every day.
  • We hold a family interest: hiking. All five of us thoroughly enjoy it and are sure to go hiking nearly every weekend (sometimes more when time allows). As the kids age into it, we plan on joining a hiking club (all members have to be 5+ so only one more until we can join). What the kids learn on hikes and from nature is just as valuable as any sports team can teach him/her. Plus it's memorable family time.

If at any time my kids come to me and inform me they really wanted to play a sport, I wouldn't be opposed to it. I know that as my kids age, they will probably want to be more involved in activities they enjoy than spending time at home or as a family. I'm ok with that as I do feel sports and other activities are very beneficial. I will continue to take the approach however that school must come first, they will only do one sport or activity per season (and seasons can't overlap), and they must still have free time available to do as they please.

Are your kids involved in any sports or activities? What do you think they have taught your kids?