Organized sports can be great for kids’ bodies and character.
Unfortunately, they also have a big downside: they pull kids away from their families and neighborhoods, now much more than ever.
Partially due to organized sports, kids aren’t playing sports in their neighborhoods nearly as much as they used to. Almost entirely due to organized sports, they aren’t eating dinners at home with their families very much, either.
Furthermore, parents and siblings spend tens of minutes, sometimes hours, each time they drive a kid around to his or her practices and games, and then they stand around there for a couple of hours, waiting to take him or her home. This is very disruptive to family life at home.
This downside bothers my wife and me so much that we’ve had a difficult time deciding whether our oldest son, Marco (8), should play organized sports at all. However, right now, Marco is playing baseball and I’m pretty happy with the balance we’ve achieved.
Part of our balance comes from pure luck. All of his team’s practices and over half of its games will be at his elementary school’s field, which is fairly close to our house (1-1/2 miles). Other fields for his league are over five miles away, so this is a big deal.
The other two factors that enable us to fit his baseball into our life aren’t pure luck at all. First, because I’ve trained him to ride his bike to and from school every day, he has absolutely no problem riding to his school’s field for practices and games.
Imagine that: Marco, at 8, can go to his baseball practices and games on his own. Of course, I sometimes want to accompany him, but I don’t have to. That’s great!
Second, I’ve been helping Marco figure out how to find other boys to practice with. He wants to practice with me every day, but with his younger brothers (ages 5 and 3) around, this is very difficult for me. My modest goal is for him to play catch, plus some sort of one-on-one pitch-hit game, with one kid. My absolute dream is for him to find enough kids to organize a bonafide pickup baseball game in our neighborhood.
This isn’t just about my time. Kids who organize their own play with other kids are learning very valuable social and leadership skills. I strongly believe that it’s better for Marco to organize a baseball practice session with a friend than to practice with me.
Those parents who are committed to their children’s organized sports may read this and think my wife and I are being selfish. We absolutely support Marco’s baseball interest, but we don’t want that support to have a major negative impact on other aspects of his life, or on his brother’s lives.
We believe that spending lots of time driving him and his brothers around to go to and from his practices and games is bad for all of us. We also believe that hanging out on the sidelines for hours at a time is bad for the rest of us, his brothers in particular.
Our family’s home and neighborhood life is very rich, so it’s very much worth fighting to preserve. We continue to have dinner together every night, although when baseball games start in a couple of weeks, Marco will miss a dinner a week. Right now, he commutes ten minutes by bike to all practices and most games, sometimes with me, while his brothers stay at home to have dinner and play.
So, Marco is getting the benefits of playing baseball, and our family isn’t incurring any significant cost. We like this balance.