Team Crazy

espn_e_elite_576This column ran in the Kansas City Star last week and all I have to say is good thing I was out-of-town because the emails I got were scary. Note to self – don’t ever write about children’s competitive sports because there are a crap ton of parents out there who will want to take you down. Seriously, I’ll be watching my back for days.

Parents where have we gone wrong? How have we convinced ourselves this is normal? Is there something in the low-calorie Gatorade we’ve been guzzling? I’m writing this as a cry for help. Someone please tell me how well-educated, seemingly fully compos mentis, adults have fallen into the youth competitive sports trap.

I’m not passing judgment. For I stand before you as one of those idiot parents who are shelling out thousands of dollars and giving up a large majority of my life so my child can “compete at the elite level.” Whatever the hell that really means.

Okay, I think I know what it means, but I’m afraid to actually be the one to say it. What’s that? You’ve got my back on this. You want me to be the one who blurts out what the rest of us are thinking as we drive 200 miles, use up all of our hotel points, and have redefined our vacation to mean squeezing in a “fun something” during a tournament?

You really think it’s wise for me to come clean that our kitchens will never get remodeled and our retirement funds aren’t what they could be because our kids partake of something with intangible monikers like “select,” “elite” or “competitive” attached to it?

Alright, I’m just going to come out and do it. I’m throwing caution to the wind here people. Here you go. I being of sound mind and disposing memory and not acting under duress or undue influence admit and/or confess that I believe children “competing at the elite level” or participating in “select” sports means that a child has an interest in an extracurricular activity and by undergoing a “try out” will be placed in a level that allows them to enjoy said activity with their peers regardless of whether or not they exhibit or posses an even slightly above average aptitude for it.

Furthermore, I believe that parents are dummies, seduced by the thought that their children are extra special and holding onto hope that maybe all the money, time (and did I mention money), being invested will someday (please dear Lord, I beseech you to make this happen) result in a NCAA scholarship opportunity or on a lesser level make excellent college resume fodder.

Never mind that a kid getting a “full ride” at college is like seeing Sasquatch. You hear about it, some people swear it’s real and have known someone who has “seen it,” but you doubt you’ll ever run into one on the plains of Kansas.

To continue this conversation further let’s just throw out the obvious pros of having a child do competitive sports. Yes, our kids enjoy it. Yes, it’s good for them to be active. Yes, on the whole team building, friendships, life lessons etc.

Now, that that’s out of the way let’s refocuses our energy on the insanity.

Am I the only one old enough to remember when “competing at the elite level” meant an athlete was training to make an Olympic team? Because now it also means a family is spending their weekend in scenic Omaha and probably dropping close to a $1,000 (at least $250 of that in entry fees) so their 11-year-old can play volleyball in a junior high gym with 750 other “elite” sixth graders.

Since we’re all aboard the way back train who else can recollect when being a starting player on a high school team was the pinnacle of your athletic career?

Now some of the best athletes don’t even play high school sports. There’s either conflicts in their “competitive” playing schedule or their “elite” coach has told them they could pick up bad habits, put themselves at a risk for injury or heaven forbid, if the high school team isn’t that great they don’t want to “be associated with losing.”

Last year I tried to start a coup. I was talking to other parents about all of us banding together and clawing even perhaps chewing off the competitive sports shackles, but none of us were brave enough to make the break.

One parent even reluctantly shared that she couldn’t leave because “this was her life.” Not her child’s life, but hers. A majority of this woman’s existence was wrapped up in her kid’s team sport. It was her community. These were her “peeps.”

I totally understood what she was talking about.

This competitive sports thing has a lot in common with religious cults. You’ve got a charismatic leader, whose attention you crave, in the form of a coach. Add in long hours spent in confined spaces (i.e. the bleachers) and families being expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities and volia you’ve got yourselves all the makings of cult mania.

Maybe that’s what we all need – a cult deprogrammer because common sense sure isn’t working.

*Attcover_1.3-2ention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂

15 thoughts on “Team Crazy

  1. feathersanddimes says:

    As a hockey mom of 2 boys, I totally relate to what you are saying…some of my mother’s best advice was, “you have to have balance.” Words so true and if you follow them, you will find a happy place.

  2. Normal Mom says:

    Can someone do the math on investing $3-4,000 in a decent mutual fund versus $3-4,000 in “elite” sports? Because I have a strong feeling that if you were to do that for the 6-8 years that the kid is playing, you would come out way ahead on the college savings plan. It’s such a crock to think that kids in those elite groups will land scholarships. About 1% of those athletes will get there. Seriously, 1%. Please get realistic, people, and please also try to rescue some semblance of family life, downtime, and family focus to life. Life doesn’t revolve around the little one’s competitive sport schedule–the sooner they get comfortable with that, the better.

  3. Logan says:

    This is why I like you. You admit that you’re an idiot. That you are on Team Crazy. You just aren’t poking fun at people and thinking that you’re better than these sports parents. THIS is why I read your stuff. You’re insightful and funny and admit your flaws all while making really stunning points. Snark on sister!

  4. mamalion3 says:

    My daughter use dance competitively and this year we just stopped…. We went on a family vacation when she would have been going to convention. You know what… she will remember that vacation for the rest of her life. I doubt she will ever remember anything but stress filled days from competition. By the way… what ever happened to college being an academic pursuit so the most important thing to do was to get good grades and do well on the PSAT?

  5. mamalion3 says:

    I will also like to point out that the kid competitive sports/dance/etc is BIG BUSINESS!!!! There are a lot of people making a serious living off of the myth of the college scholarship/your kid is the one!

  6. Donna T says:

    My kid isn’t aggressive or talented enough to play on the travel and/or elite teams. Last year, he was placed on the previous grade’s football team for his own safety! At least that’s the excuse I was given by a guy who only cares about winning. I think he intended to create an elite team in his own mind. It would have been nice to have seen my son be chosen for a team at least once in his youth. On the other hand, I see how these families live, and it’s just awful. My kid’s friends can’t play because of their team game and practice schedules. In some cases, the kids don’t seem to know how to play. The worst is the attitude and entitlement of the parents. Middle aged men strutting around town as if they are still the varsity player, wearing their kid’s team’s jacket, the “I control everything” team mom, not to mention the coaches who only care about winning and scores. In a small town, don’t these people realize they are going to forever be remembered by all the parents by their actions? I know I won’t ever forget who they were and my experience with them.

  7. A.PROMPTreply says:

    So many great comments on your spot-on article…I couldn’t hope to add more, except…I’ll rehark to the previous discussion we had….if we’re going to “play this game” and shell out all our cash, couldn’t they at least give us comfortable seating? 🙂

  8. Maureen Sklaroff (@BlueBellsCS) says:

    I don’t know what it is like elsewhere, but what I don’t like here is the poor sportsmanship the parents show. At as young an age as kindergarten, I’ve seen coaches who won’t play the kids equal amounts of time. Sometimes there are even league rules about the minimum time a player must be played and the coaches will play the child that much and not a second more. My daughter’s coach yelled at some of the girls so meanly, the girls would end up crying. Then the parents get so crazy about winning and coaching from the sidelines and generally behaving like horrible sports. I have seen parents ejected from games!!! I mean how crazy is that!?!? When my older daughter was playing soccer, the female coach of another team decided that my daughter was playing too rough (my daughter weighed all of 85 pounds at the time and it was a U15 league) and started yelling at my daughter when the teams were shaking hands and saying “good game” at the end of the game (you know, the part where we teach the kids to be good sports). The referee carded the coach and told her to get off the field and still it took 4 men from the other team to haul this woman off the field (my husband had taken my daughter to the game or else I would have just kicked this woman’s derriere and given that I have a decade of intense martial arts training, I probably would have got arrested for killing the woman or something, but she was screaming in my 14 year old’s face and just hearing about it brought out the mama bear in me). I don’t know what happened to that coach, as she was reported to multiple discipline committees by the referees and my daughter’s coaches and I suspect she was never allowed to attend a soccer game again. Ironically, it didn’t phase my daughter one bit. That was the last straw for me and I have all but forbade, my two younger children from playing team sports since then. You know things have gotten out of hand when you don’t feel that it is safe for your kids to play team sports because the adults from the other team might assault your child.

  9. 1 Asst & 1 Head team crazy mom says:

    I’m on Team Crazy – and will admit, your post is SPOT. ON. I love the cult reference, man you’re good! 🙂 I see it all, and the world has lost the meaning of balance and moderation. I keep repeating, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Keep it snarky!

  10. Lkw says:

    Once again you’ve pointed out the truth. Just like the person who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes was probably not popular, you hit people with the uncomfortable facts. Don’t understand how parents can be so gullible that they can’t spot a scam like this. Sports are wonderful for kids in moderation. But these parents act like they think every child will get a scholarship or even turn professional. As someone pointed out, it’s at the very least résumé’ padding for kids. Meanwhile kids have no downtime to just be a kid.

  11. Coach's Tired Wife says:

    Oh, I love you. I mean, like heart you in a serious way (but not creepy). My husband was an athlete and our 2nd son is good and plays “select”. My husband coached his team for years until he couldn’t take the parents anymore. I despise it. We have 4 kids and during tournament season it is like we are two separate families because HELLO, 3 other kids need a life, too. And they play at rec level because their mom (me) insists they do one activity that doesn’t involve a game controller. We logged that in one week my son spent 36 hours at practice and games. That is a full.time.job. That we pay for him to do.

  12. Notamom says:

    You forgot to mention all the fundraising. Besides all the time spent with these activities parents are also required to help with fundraising. Every year I get bombarded with “buy, buy, buy for my kids’ activity”. I hate going to the store before 9 am on the weekends because I have to shove my way thru the line of kids shoving “fundraising jars” in my face and getting seriously nasty because I won’t throw down my hard earned money for their sport. All the while the parents are standing off to the side and not paying attention to their bratty kids.

    Way to speak the truth about this insanity.

  13. Grace says:

    Not to mention if – IF – your child is selected for a college scholarship they will inevitably be forced to “retire” at the “old” age of 21 due to injury. I saw my fair share of student athletes who had to call it quits after their graduation day and were left with broken down bodies and meager hopes of becoming middle school coaches. Long term – it’s not worth it!

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