Fall is here, and with it brings a whole host of opportunities to sign up, join up, start up. Only, the more we say yes, the further down we slide into lives filled with excess. On this journey toward less stuff and more life, I realized that one thing we had more than enough of with five kids was organized sports.
Over the past five years, we have allowed our older boys, ages 10 and 12, to participate in baseball, basketball, and cross country (in that order of importance). Starting last year, they tried out for the higher level baseball league, and our one night a week commitment turned into a six nights per week commitment, with the two of them playing on a total of three teams. Practices, games, and tournaments took up our summer nights through July, and we faithfully attended every game as a family.
This year, we repeated the schedule, knowing what to expect and allowing ourselves the freedom to NOT go to every game when other needs arose. I will say that I enjoyed attending their games, though, both for the game itself as well as the social aspect of growing friendships with the other parents. My three younger children also looked forward to seeing their friends, the siblings of my sons’ fellow players. It was a win-win for all of us.
A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
But this fall, something changed for me. The boys signed up for soccer and cross country at school, neither of which is a primary sport for them, and we signed up our 6-year old daughter and 8-year old son for rec soccer: their first opportunity to play an organized team sport. My husband also spends the fall coaching high school girls’ field hockey, which left me wondering how I was going to get everyone everywhere without going insane, shortchanging both myself and them in the process.
My first reaction was, why are we signing up the younger kids for sports? It took me awhile to process through this conflict of interests before I realized that it wasn’t the younger kids who shouldn’t be in an organized sport, but the older ones needed a break.
My two older boys attend a private school, where they have peer interaction throughout the day, along with their summer baseball commitments. My three younger children home school and have little outside interaction, apart from church activities. The opportunity to play soccer provides them with social interaction, team building skills, cooperative play with children outside our family, and the chance to be a light for Christ to those who may not know Him.
The older boys (especially my 12-year old, who has a more rigorous schedule this year with high school algebra on his plate) could really use the fall season to get their routines and study habits in place and have some down time after a day away at school. We as a family also can invest the time and support to encourage the younger children in their first sports endeavors, like we did for the older boys when they began playing sports.
So, after the first week of school and a few practices, I met with the boys on Friday morning at breakfast and presented my case for pulling them out of their fall sports. I admit, I was nervous. I expected strong resistance, but I determined to be open and honest in my approach. Surprisingly, they both readily agreed that not doing fall sports would be in the best interests of all.
I have to admit, I am so proud of them for their willingness to sacrifice on behalf of their siblings (and their harried mother) and to recognize their own need for margin.
Sports, in and of themselves, are not bad, but the over-scheduling of our children and insistence on enrolling them in every organized activity available is truly detrimental not only to their mental and even physical health, but also to the overall health of the family.
Family needs to be the focus of the family- not sports or other extracurricular activities that both send us driving all over the town (or county or state), grabbing fast food for dinner, and steal the time we need to relax, regroup, and contribute cooperatively to the home.
Since making this decision a week ago, I have seen my older son do actual work in the yard for his dad, apart from his regular chores. He also has shown more effort in his chores. I have seen him settle into a good study schedule, and I often find him, during his down time, relaxing with a book in hand or playing out in the yard. This weekend, he’ll also have time to hang out with a friend from school.
I do a lot less running kids around, and I get to see a lot more of my boys, who are gone most of the day at school. We eat all of our dinners at home as a family (except for Dad, who still has to coach his practices and games, but gets to eat in peace and quiet when he gets home), and the kids have time to play in our yard with each other (these years will come to an end sooner than I’d like to think).
Withdrawing the boys from sports this fall has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a parent.
Have you ever considered pulling back on an extracurricular activity in the best interests of your own family? Share your experience in the comments below.
(Featured photo credit: Angi Krueger- thanks for the great picture of Phinehas!)