Thursday, August 23, 2012

Travel Sport Lament

In case this isn't abundantly clear, we live in Middle Class Suburbia.  EVERYONE athletic (and some who are not) play, love, and embrace Travel Sports. I can't always tell, but I think it is more than just a status symbol / window cling to them...  Signing our son up for Travel Sports was a bigger dilemma for us than it needed to be because I'm always weighing what is just the culture with what we should do; I never wanted to be a soccer mom, and I over-think almost everything.

Don't worry, I don't say this in front of many people (yet here I am, blogging about it).  Permission to speak freely? 

I've always thought of sports as a decadent waste of time and I really don't like the whole idea of Travel Sports for kids.   I find them pretentious and just another way for Affluent America to exert elite-ism.  I don't like life to revolve around sports or to encourage the natural  egocentric mentality that life revolves around our Dear Son.  I am uncomfortable with the intensity of the parents / fans / coaches / players.  I'm not big on the rigorous nature of the schedule.  I hate that the "outfit" is so expensive; I refuse to call it a uniform because anything that coordinates that well and costs $200 is an "outfit".  I'm not even sure it is emotionally or physically healthy for kids to dedicate so much energy to one endeavor; I'd rather have a wider variety. But I've squeezed it into the budget and come to peace with it all because...

Our Dear Son got every ounce of my DH and my athletic ability and drive and coordination from both sides.  Even as a baby, he was miserable until he learned how to run.  He is dedicated and excited and loves to play sports, but especially soccer.  He is usually one of the first to practice and the last to leave.  When he doesn't have practice, he heads over with a ball to the local park.  When the weather is too bad or the nets aren't up, he plays soccer on the Xbox or watches soccer (even in Español). --All of that, and his attitude is much better when he active and busy (but not too busy).

And this is where travel sports came in.  We realized that we were doing him a disservice by not letting him play as much as he needed.  We aren't doing this for a scholarship or so that he can play for the EPL someday (although wouldn't either of those be awesome?!).  Our whole life doesn't revolve around his schedule.  We don't always drag the four of us to weekend tournaments (unless they are someplace fun or near an outlet mall).  We are doing this so he learns the value of team work.  We want him to learn that practice and diligence make people better, not just in athletics but in life.  We want him to value being healthy and strong and active.  We want him to understand how to handle it when a coach / boss / professor / friend tells him that he can do better.  We want his ego to stay in check by regularly encountering people better than him or more dedicated then him.

After a year and a half, we had just settled into a lovely groove on the B Team (I'm going to call it the B Team, even though that is not really PC and what it is supposed to be is "Premier").  He was one of the best kids on the team.  He had tons of playing time and was a team leader in almost all respects.  Since life isn't comfortable, of course, when tryouts came, they moved him up to the A Team (actually "Select" but I really can't keep them straight so I am just going to stick with the old-school A&B).  And with the A Team, came a whole new level of intensity and dedication.

The first couple of practices, my DH and I coincidentally walked the park path around the practice fields to exercise (and spy).  He was clearly on the fringe and as all Mommies, I felt defensive for him and wanted him to be instantly included.  He was actually taking it fine; he was playing hard, but not too hard.  He wasn't trying to prove himself too soon, he actually handled it well.  As parents we weren't really enveloped in love either.  A couple of people we already knew would talk with us, but most of the parents stuck in their little groups, which was also fine.  As a very good friend of mine once said, "our friendship parking lot is kinda full right now."  A little quiet wasn't hurting us.

The team has a new coach so all of the kids are new to him and were placed by their merit, not by seniority or past performance.  When the time for the seeding tournament came, our DS started as a forward, and scored the 2nd goal - a strong left-footed upper 90 missile.  At that moment, a chair was pulled up for my husband (I didn't go) on the sidelines with the other dads and the team started including my son in the game.  He took beautiful corner kicks.  By the end of the tournament, he had scored 6 goals and assisted just as many.  We were embraced (nearly physically) by the A Team.

But I guess this is the crux of my actual problem with sports, especially travel, and I do mean my problem.  It isn't really the elite nature or the time or money or intensity or dedication or window stickers or yard signs or outfit; it is the competitive, prove yourself nature of sports.  The fleeting identity that can so easily be made and crushed in a single game.  I just don't have it in me.  Even the tryout would put me over the edge.  This is about my own insecurities. I've always hated the game "Sorry!"  I can barely even play cards without making excuses for why I'm playing so well (rather than just shrugging and admitting that I'm good at Euchre). I want everyone to win and everyone to succeed together.  And success to me is based on happiness, not on a final score. 

But I get it now.  I understand that some people (our son especially)* thrive on the competition.  They love the game.  I know it is what we need to do for him as parents because I can see him more comfortable in his own skin with travel soccer.  I don't know how much his identity is falsely being built up in this.  He doesn't seem to be awful when he comes off the field after a good game or a bad game, a little bit of blaming the ref, but I think that is the age and we are squelching that response immediately.  The competition is good for him.  The time and energy spent perfecting a skill and working with a team has made him a better person...

Travel Sports is not something I would love (more aptly, my personal hell), so the best I can hope to do is support him in what he loves, be ready to put my arm around his sweaty little (although taller than me) body as he comes off the field (if he needs it), and have a smoothy ready for him when he gets  home... and be secretly thankful that it isn't me out there.

but I'm still not putting out a yard sign.  Maybe a window cling but I'm drawing the line at the yard sign.

*not my DD who feels like it is a waste of time to chase a ball around a hot field when she could be chit-chatting with new and old friends.  It is nice to have a kindred spirit in the family.  You should see how pretty and pleasant our games of Blokus are!  and FYI, my mom, my aunts, my sister, and some of my cousins are all the same way.  We all share tiles during Scrabble and love Apples to Apples.  And the idea of public competition gives us hives and enough anxiety to actually be considered cardio on most charts.

FYI - I tried out being competitive in college, it was the same time that I tried being care-free, never making my bed or folding my laundry and taking a lot of ditch days.  I played every intramural sport there was.  It wasn't bad, but I found I was happier whenever we were playing just for fun, which was most of the time... and a perfectly made bed... ahhhhhhh....  But those frequent ditch days..... I've never given up again...

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