So many parents have their children in sports or other extra curricular activities outside of school. There seem to be so many options when it comes to learning about the value of hard work, practice, exercise, winning and losing with grace, and being a part of a team. Those are all very important things that our kids can learn through all of these games and events. Between soccer, baseball, softball, football, cheerleading, 4-H, Destination Imagination, school plays….let’s just say we have a lot of opportunities for our children to learn these basic life skills. As parents, we seem to be overrun with options when it comes to extra curricular activities for our smaller humans. We have so many options that we tend to bite off more than our children should have to chew.
Right now, I have a soccer player, a cheerleader, and a cheer coach. (I can barely count the cheer coach as my responsibility because she is 18, in college, and gets herself where she needs to go. However, she’s still MINE.) We have practice four days a week for those two different teams. Games are on Saturday, but the soccer schedule won’t be made until after the seeding tournament, which is…oh crap, I think that’s coming up soon! I’d better check on that, huh? Those games can be anywhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours away from our house. I know that Saturdays are going to be crazy and David and I might have to divide and conquer to get both younger girls to their respective games when they need to be. Sometimes, one of my girls may have to catch a ride with one of their friends’ parents to get to their game. They are learning to understand that we will make every effort to be at their games, but we make no promises. There are very few good excuses for us to miss their games, as the kids are our priority right now. I usually stay and watch most of the practices too. It’s a good chance for me to see how they are interacting with their teammates and coaches and to actually see their progress as it happens. (Okay, so it’s a good chance for me to read as well. I can multitask!)
Enter: More options.
There is a play coming up. My girls would love to be in it, but rehearsals would overlap with their current practice schedules. This is the part where I feel like we start sort of failing our kids. If I allowed them to audition for the play and they made it, they would be forced to choose who they are going to let down on a regular basis. Will we let the soccer team down in favor of play practice? Will we miss half of play practice in order to make it to soccer practice on time? What if there is a soccer game on the actual day of the play? We would be forced to make a choice and would be disappointing someone no matter which choice we made. And somehow, parents are making that seem like it’s okay. It’s okay to let the team down and not show up for soccer because we want to do this other thing this weekend. After all, team loyalty and commitment aren’t really all that important, right?
So, so wrong.
In addition to the play, the girls have also expressed an interest in taking piano lessons and gymnastics. I know these kids are young. I know they have so many possibilities ahead of them that we can’t help but sign them up for as many activities and experiences as possible. I also know that the world wouldn’t end if 11YO didn’t show up for a soccer game or 8YO missed a football game. But the lessons they really need to learn from these activities aren’t just about getting better control over a soccer ball or learning how to kick higher. When you sign your child up for a team or activity, they are making a commitment to their team to always show up and do their best. (Within reason, of course. Illness and one-time family commitments are pretty much the only things that should take priority over that promise they made to their team.) Whether our kids ended up enjoying their team sports or not, they have to finish out the season. They made a commitment and it should be honored. Even if they get injured and cannot participate, they should be at those games cheering on their teammates. That also helps reinforce the feeling that they are an important part of that team. Kids need to feel important to people besides their family members and that doesn’t usually happen when they are allowed to half-participate in a dozen different things.
On top of practice schedules and games, kids also need to squeeze in homework, time with friends, and time to just be kids without anyplace to go or anything that has to be done. Basically, they need time to be bored. They need time to be kicked outside to wander around the yard or ride bikes. They need the chance to build a blanket fort in the living room or to work on crafts or put a puzzle together. Some of my favorite days are the ones where nothing is planned. (Those are, truthfully, my most favorite days EVER!) They don’t usually start out very fun, though. My kids usually approach me and point out that we NEVER do anything fun and all of their friends have way more exciting lives than they do. Why can’t we DO something fun? Why can’t we GO somewhere? Those days start out with lots of complaints from the peanut gallery, but usually end with a board game that has been hiding in a closet or an adventure in the yard where they pretend they are running a restaurant or trying to survive in the wilderness. I don’t initiate those things. I simply ignore their whining and they eventually end up doing things that kids are supposed to be doing and having way more fun than they expected to have. Like it or not, they are going to have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives. They need to know what to do with themselves when there is nothing to do. That’s when they truly start to figure out who they are as people.
No, my kids won’t be auditioning for the upcoming play. 8YO won’t be playing Fall Ball, even though she loves softball, because the practice schedules are likely to either overlap with cheer practice or fill up the rest of our week with obligations. It would probably either burn her out, cause her grades to suffer, or make her feel like giving less effort because she will be spreading herself so thin. She is eight years old. The skills she would learn in a second sport or activity at this time in her life aren’t as important as the lesson she is learning about prioritizing and following through on her commitments. In the spring, she plans to play softball again. If she changes her mind before signups and wants to do something else, then she won’t be playing softball. I allow my kids to choose their activities, but it’s up to David and me to make sure they learn how to follow through. According to my kids, I am the mean mom that won’t let them do more than one extra curricular activity at a time.
I can live with that.