By Alex Flanagan
I know. I get it. I’m obsessed with my kids’ sports. I hear it and read it in the headlines all the time.
I know what you are thinking … I’m pushing them too hard both mentally and physically. That they should be playing pick-up basketball in the park, instead of practicing 20-plus hours a week with a coach inside a gym. That sports should be fun. An outlet. A way to get exercise.
I know I am going to burn them out. Shit, I’m burnt out by 5pm every Saturday just from driving to six different baseball, soccer and basketball games!
You don’t think I know that more doesn’t mean better? That the chances of my kid getting a college scholarship are slim to none? That my kids’ risk of injury increases by specializing too early? I do. I know all of it, because I think about it ALL. THE. TIME.
How hard should I push when my son doesn’t want to go to practice? Am I letting him down when I’m the only parent missing the game? Should I let him join the travel baseball team because he’s begging me, EVERY DAY, to play with all of his friends? If I say yes, how will we balance our jobs and 3 days of after school practice every week? Is it good for his health? Should I let my daughter skip a Soccer game for a birthday party? Will she suffer permanent damage if I let her do too much too soon after suffering a concussion? What EXACTLY is a concussion? How in the world did it take me 2 hours to realize she had suffered one? How are we going to pay for all of this? Should my 7-year-old play up because he’s talented and tall or should I sign him up to play with his friends even though he might get bored?
I hear you on the radio, Tom Brady, explaining how you didn’t play football ‘til you were a high school freshman. That your parents favored a casual approach to sports. Lots of soccer, some camps sprinkled in, neighborhood play in the streets with kids you grew up with. I want to believe you and take my foot of the gas, but I can’t. Because you and I both grew up in a different time. And just wait, Tom, you and Giselle are about to find yourselves in the same ole Catch 22 that I’m in.
You see, I want sports to be fun for my kids too. I want them to enjoy themselves, to get the emotional and physical benefits of being part of a team. I’m not trying to be a crazy sports parent. I just want them to learn how to commit to something or someone and see it through. I’m not dumb. I realize my kids’ odds of getting an athletic scholarship in college are about the same 3 percent chance a pregnant woman has of having twins naturally. What you don’t understand is I don’t need my child to play sports in college, but I am desperate for them to get the opportunity to play in high school.
Being a high school athlete will help them steer clear of teenage drama and keep them out of trouble. Being on a team will give them a valid excuse when their peers want them to take a sip of beer or pop a pill. Plus, research shows kids who play on varsity teams go on to earn higher salaries and tend to get better jobs. They’ll have more self-confidence and better leadership skills. But … to play in high school they have to keep pace now or they won’t make a team. And I had NOTHING to do with that. I didn’t ask for high school coaches to start running tryouts with fitness requirements that rival the NFL combine. It’s not my fault that there will be over 200 kids trying out for a baseball team that has 20 available spots. Or that youth sports has become such big business that many executives have lost sight of what’s best for the kids.
That $7 billion travel industry that youth sports has created … that isn’t me. All I want for my child is to get to be a high school athlete. BUT… I don’t believe that will be possible if by the time they are 13 years old all they’ve ever done is play a few soccer tournaments on Saturday and some pick-up games in the driveway.
So, blame me all you want for being overly involved, but let’s get one thing straight … I’m not the one who took all the fun out of kids playing sports. So kindly stop pointing your finger at me.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.