Getting Off The Hamster Wheel
We were that family. It started with rec leagues, then travel, then high school – with travel. For years we have been on the hamster wheel; fall, winter, spring, summer, all seasons, all year, multi/simultaneous athletes, ZERO breaks. We somehow managed to justify the time and financial commitment with musings about how good sports are for character and grit and we just want them to be able to play in high school so we have to do this. However, after close to eight months in an international pandemic, in which we witnessed the shutdown of proms, graduations and sport seasons, our perspective has changed.
We want off.
The time spent driving our kids to practice and games turned into family dinners and family movie nights and family game nights. We had more laughs and more meaningful conversations. We got re-acquainted with each other. The more time we spent together as a family, the more we craved it. A deeper appreciation grew for this special and unique time together. COVID was a great detox from the insanity of the hamster wheel and it allowed us to open our eyes to that insanity.
So, how do seemingly normal and rational parents find ourselves on the hamster wheel in the first place? For us, in addition to the ‘character qualities’ we wanted them to get from sports, our main justification was that it was necessary to make a varsity sports team. All the other kids on varsity played club or travel and we wanted to give our kids the best shot at making the team. We also thought it could open the doors to elite colleges. For our oldest son, it became very clear early on athletics was not going to be the difference maker for him. He focused more on academics in high school and he just participated in high school sports. For my daughter and my youngest son, we thought it might open some doors to colleges. After all, it was sport that got me into college. But in the end, for my daughter it didn’t even matter.
The summer before her junior year, she began drawing interest from a couple of high academic colleges: Smith College, Pomona College, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury, Wellesley, Sarah Lawrence, Emory, and Carnegie Mellon. She decided to apply to high academic schools that interested her and we encouraged her not to make a decision on basketball. She ended up choosing the University of Notre Dame. Our youngest son showed promise really early on. However, by the time he was in middle school, he burned out on basketball. He preferred to play video games. However, just before COVID, he regained some interest in sports, but hasn’t gotten to play a game yet.
During this time of quarantine, I found more time to meditate and get into Wim Hof breathing – which got me going to the beach and jumping in the cold water in the morning. My daughter would come with me to the beach and it became our morning routine. Afterwards, we would grab breakfast burritos and coffee or just coffee. She convinced me to start writing again. It was a great three months of quality time together.
Last month, our entire family flew out to Notre Dame and moved our older kids into their dorms. School has started for our youngest and his football team started conditioning. Maybe the sports season will start up in January and maybe it will not. With this new perspective we gained from being away from sports, we see the hamster wheel differently and we realize we don’t want to get back on it. When and if the season starts back, we view it just like we’d view a school concert or school play – -the stakes are what we make it and we choose to have no end goal in mind. Whatever direction our son chooses for sports or any other activities, we just hope he finds community and experiences he looks on with fond memories.