Giving Up On Family Dinners
By Guest Contributor Kim O’Rourke
I tried to catch up with a friend the other day and asked her to call me back. I told her I would be in the car for the next 4 hours or so. When she called, she wanted to know where I was going 4 hours away on a Tuesday night. I had forgotten her kids were only 5 and 2. I am just driving the girls to practice, I explained. I have 3 daughters who all play soccer, but their practices are at different times on different fields. I am typically in the car from 4:30 to 8:30 dropping off, picking up, and dropping off again.
Dinner? We eat when we can, sometimes in the car before practice and sometimes after practice on the way home. In the world of youth sports, I am not alone. I actually consider myself lucky that all three all my kids play the same sport, even if it is year-round. I have friends who drive from lacrosse games, across town to baseball practices, and to AAU basketball courts all in the same night. The craziness that has taken over youth sports has re-invented what it means to be a family today.
Weekends are stressful, especially with multiple kids playing multiple sports. If you play for an elite club team, traveling to different states is common. This usually means families are separated as they “divide and conquer.” The family unit is split, and it is not just the kids who suffer but many marriages as well. Being separated most weekends and not having time to connect can put a strain on even the strongest of marriages. Disagreements can occur if you don’t see eye to eye about the importance and commitment involved in club sports. Is a family party more important than a practice even if it means less playing time in an upcoming game? My own daughter chose to go to a college showcase during her spring break instead of a vacation with her cousins and grandparents. It was not an easy decision and quite honestly caused a lot of stress in my house. Recently, my friend told me she was not taking a family vacation this year because they didn’t have a free week. There was a basketball tournament over Christmas, a soccer tournament during spring break, lacrosse games at the beginning of the summer, and preseason football in early August. She has two kids.
When did playing sports become more important than spending time with family?
A few years ago, the NCAA announced a “dead period” for recruiting in women’s soccer. There are now no showcases between December 15th and January 3rd. This was done to allow coaches time to spend with their families over the holiday season. The showcases are now in early December with students expected to miss a week of school. And for many, that’s right smack dab in the middle of finals. It’s all about the kids, right? I am not going to lie, I didn’t love flying to Florida every December 27th and returning January 3rd. Spending New Year’s Eve at a soccer tournament is really not my idea of fun, but at least my daughter wasn’t missing a week of school during her midterms. And let’s not forget about the financial burden of playing on a competitive club team. Year-round training, coaching, equipment, personal training, college ID camps, hotels, and plane tickets, all cost money. For a lot of people, this means sacrificing to cover the expenses even if it means cutting back on contributions to a retirement account or not paying off debt.
It isn’t just the family unit that suffers, but the individual athlete who misses out on experiences that were once considered a rite of passage into adulthood. There is not much time for a part-time job or volunteer work with practices and games 6 times a week. Finding time to go to church is also challenging with overnight tournaments and Sunday morning games. School clubs such as art, photography, yearbook, piano lessons often interfere with practice times, limiting a student’s exposure to other possible areas of interests. When my daughter began working on her college applications, she asked me about the extracurricular activities and interest section. The only thing she had written was soccer. How are we able to instill a sense of service, faith, and creativity with the time-consuming commitment necessary to play a competitive club sport?
With their entire identity defined by the sport they play, what happens after an athlete’s last game? Whether it is due to an injury or when they graduate and transition into a working adult, will they know who they are as an individual if all they have ever known is their sport? Will they have regrets? I recently posed this question to my daughter, who is now twenty and nearing the end of her soccer career. She told me she wouldn’t have changed a thing. She loved the sport and the car rides with her dad, traveling, and exploring new places. Her teammates were her closest friends, bonded by hard work, defeats, and success.
I guess the answer is trying to find a balance between family life and sports. My daughter is truly sad that she will no longer be playing a sport she has played since she was 5. She did remind me of the benefits of being part of a team and why we had traveled halfway around the country to watch her play. There were many sacrifices we made along the way, but it was a choice. A choice she made and a choice we supported.
It will be interesting to see what youth sports looks like when our children are parents. Will the sports craze continue with the same level of intensity or will there be a ying to our yang and our over-the-top sports parenting will be replaced with a more laissez-faire attitude where kids play sports with their friends to have fun and are able to make it home in time for family dinner?
Kim O’Rourke is a soccer mom to three daughters who play on college and high school teams. She estimates that she has been to over 4,000 soccer games in the last 15 years. She tries to find humor in the crazy world of youth sports. She shares her stories about parenthood, health, and relationships on her blog www.madcrazylife.com, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mymadcrazylife/Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mymadcrazylife/