I’m Not Sold on Sports


My kids are currently involved in no organized sports. (OK, my eldest is in chess club. Does this reveal something about our family?) And I’m ok with that. Most of the time.

I’m not anti-sports. My oldest son half-heartedly plays soccer once or twice a year and my daughter has an interest in ballet that comes and goes. My youngest really seems to enjoy all athletics and will probably want to do them, as soon as he is more reliably continent and less full of 3-year-old rage.

I’m just… not convinced that organized sports are a completely necessary part of childhood. *don’t chase me with pitchforks, athletes — it’s not worth it because I am slow*

My husband played alllll the sports in his childhood. He wasn’t always good, mind you, but he played. In all the leagues, in all the seasons. Eventually, he found a sport he was very good at (tennis) and stuck with it. He speaks very fondly of sports, of their ability to teach determination and teamwork and the benefit of sticking with things that are hard. I get it. I do.

But, my experience with sports… has mostly been bad.  When I was really young, illnesses and finances prevented my family from enrolling me in activities (also, I was just super into books). Later on, I was able to try some sports, and I was mostly pretty bad. I was bad enough that other kids would comment.  I think it was mostly endearing to people – I was clumsy and uncoordinated and not the best athlete. But being a kid, I became convinced that I could never be more than that, and that it wasn’t worth trying. Honestly, that still impacts me as an adult, especially as I try to find ways to enjoy exercise (good news, I have).

So now that I am a mother, I really have to make up my mind about organized sports and probably soon. I know so many people who have kids who are enriched and happy doing sports. But also – sports are super expensive and they kind of seem to get worse as the kids get older. And the time commitment is a little off-putting to me. And what do you do if your kids (like, ahem, some kids I may have birthed) are just kind of tepid on sports? Do you make them continue in hopes that they’ll learn to love them? Do you let them stop? What if they are never able to catch up to the kids who have been playing since they were toddlers? And even now, I feel a shift in my kids’ sporting events as they grow older. The air is tenser, the parents are yelling more. We’ve exited the phase of life where it was a happy accomplishment if anyone on either team was able to make contact with a ball. If there was a kid who was distractedly sitting in the grass, the spectators on both sides would smile permissively.

Sometimes I really miss those days.

I guess my issue isn’t completely with sports, but the pervading notion – ever-more present in sports – that if kids aren’t at a prodigy-level, they can’t do it and shouldn’t bother trying. That notion doesn’t seem healthy to me. At least when my kids say “I’m bad at spelling, I’m clumsy, I’m not good at making friends,” etc., I can try to teach them that if they give themselves the time and grace to work on it, they will see an improvement. And I will help them every step of the way.

Wow, that last bit sounds like something an inspirational coach would say in a movie – maybe sports and I aren’t as estranged as I thought.