This 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.
*Attention 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! 🙂