This year I turned 30. A lot of things have changed since I was a "kid". You don't have to stand in the kitchen to make a phone call (usually in front of the whole family), when you want to go on the internet you don't hear a lengthy dial up noise and tie up the household phone line, there were no I-pods and I-pads, and even the thought of chewing gum in school was absurd. Looking back at how far we've "come" I think we sometimes forget the serenity in simple balance. I believe that same balance has left many sport centric households today.
It's not uncommon for an athlete in this day in age to play their favorite sport year round. Let's look at the softball athlete. Starting in March we being our school ball season. Immediately after that concludes summer ball starts full swing. An average summer team schedule will read anywhere from 4-7 tournaments. Practice a few nights a week, and even a weekly league may be in the mix. When we are done with summer ball somewhere early August, fall ball emerges. Kids join leagues and play many times up until November, or snow fall, whatever comes first in Wisconsin. December, January and February fill the calendar with open gyms and speed and agility training. (Attendance taken.) This schedule for many kids starts as early as 8 years old.
When I was that age, there were certainly opportunities for us to participate in softball outside of school ball. These opportunities were carefully scheduled around our basketball, volleyball, track, golf and school events. As a family, we scheduled our summer vacations up north, planned our camping trips, our Great America visits and backfilled our sporting contests from there. We had our weeknights to play street hockey on rollerblades, run through the neighbor's sprinkler, bike to the park for our nightly kickball game with the kids on the block, earn some money babysitting or cutting lawns! We were kids first and athletes second.
Working with youth athletes for over ten years, I've become a bit more sensitive to this topic. Kids come through the doors dragging their bat bags bogged down with brand new bats, shiny helmets, batting gloves and the newest Jennie Finch glove. Emotionlessly going through the motions, practice begins and ends and they wake up to do it all again. Training and playing consumes their days, weeks, summers. Please don't misunderstand this message. I am certainly an advocate of athletes committing to their sport and dedicating their time to get better. I spent countless hours during the week with my hit-around softball rope connected to the basketball pole in the front yard taking my swings. I went to open gyms, played in the summer and in leagues. I loved softball.
Thankfully, my parents monitored my extra-curricular participation and enforced that simple balance. Parents; you will get pressure from coaches and other parents to play just one sport. You will get pressure from them to live in the gym and play 12 months out of the year. You will get pressure from them to skip your family get-a-way for the most important tournament of the summer. THIS WILL NOT GUARANTEE YOUR CHILD'S SPOT ON VARSITY, THE D1 COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOOSING, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY IT WILL NOT GUARANTEE THEIR HAPPINESS!
I played thru high school and then played four years of college softball. I worked after that, got married, bought a house, and now have a child of my own. Looking back at my youth, I can tell you without question that I have some great memories on the diamond. I had a blast with my team and we competed at a very high level. I can also tell you that I never missed church for a game, I learned how to hit a curve ball playing wiffle ball with my brother in the backyard, and my speed and agility training were the weekly games of kick-the-can, tag, and hopscotch. I will be ever grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to be a kid!
Maria Van Abel