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Bits & Pieces: Taking one for the team

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I’m a bad soccer mom.

I don’t know all the rules of the game. I get the game schedule conflicted with my work schedule or previous family commitments. And, yes, there are times I dread spending a large chunk of my day — or worse, a whole weekend — watching soccer games. I don’t always dislike watching my son play with his teammates, because it can be quite exciting, but at this point in life I don’t want to feel like I have to give so much of our family time to soccer or any other organized sport for that matter.

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I know what you’re thinking. What about the important lessons learned from team sports? We all know that team sports are incredible for teaching our kids all sorts of valuable skills that they can carry on through life, important lessons like hard work, dedication, and trusting others.  But, that said ,in the last few years I’ve realized that if you’re signing your kid up for a sport these days it’s going to require so much more from families than it did when I was a kid.

I didn’t start a team sport until middle school, where the decision was mine and not my parents. And my mamá and papá certainly never sat and watched us kids practice.Take one look at youth sports in America today and you’ll see plenty of parents who actually feel compelled to sit and watch their kid’s practice. I suppose my parents were too busy working, or preparing dinner or I don’t know, having a life of their own without hovering over us kids all the time.   

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And speaking of dinner, studies show families today are sitting down to meals together 33 percent less often than they did just twenty years ago. And according Anne Fishel, family therapist who writes for the Washington Post, sitting down to regular mealtimes with your kids “is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports and doing art.”

With all the studies pointing to the detriments of overscheduling kids, many families continue to do so. While my family is not quite to the point where we are missing dinner together, I do worry that it will be tougher to keep a balanced life as my kids get older.

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Maybe over-scheduled sporty kids is the new keeping up with the Joneses. I’ve noticed there is this intense pressure to start our kids really young by enrolling them on team sports as early as three years old. Talking to some of my friends, they admit to signing their kids up for team sports for fear that their child will be left behind.

And just like wildfire, that fear spreads from parent to parent. Admittedly, I have not totally escape getting burned. Several times in the last few years I’ve had to ask myself why I’m feeling pressured to do the same. I’ve had to check my fears at the door and really see if it’s me or my kids who are making the decision to play.

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Ideally, I would love for my sons to dabble in a variety of sports for a while longer without too much pressure. In our house we allow for three practices during the week, so on two days they can have unstructured play with neighborhood kids. But, when the weekend comes around we are expected to make all the games.

And I’m telling you, if you’ve got something else planned you’ll get the finger wagging by other parents and the coach alike for not showing the kids how to be accountable or demonstrating what proper teamwork looks like. What gives? Are eight year olds and their parents really expected to dedicate that many weekends?  Again, I know there are families who might love every second of the travel and watching their kids play. And hey, if that’s your thing then fine. But, I’m not quite ready to be that level of gung-ho soccer mom.

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Plus, I honestly feel my four-year-old and my eight-year-old have plenty of time to become more serious about organized sports and learn what it means to be part of a team. But, in this moment of our lives, I feel they are so young and learning lessons around the dinner table or during the occasional camping weekend with family is very important.  

So, I suppose I’m unapologetically saying that my family will not be the ones making every single game, nor will I be watching practice. To some this may look like letting the team down, or breaking some norms in this American sport-crazed society. But, I suppose in the end I’m not too concerned because I know as the parent I hold all the cards. Ultimately I get to decide what is good for my young family which, in my opinion, is the most important team of all.

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Judith Ritschard was born by the sea in Mexico then transplanted to the Roaring Fork Valley where she turned full on mountain girl. You might spot her in her huarache sandals on her townie bike trying to keep up with her two wildlings in Carbondale.