I have pivoted 180 degrees over the last few years on one major bone of contention in our household of four, which includes two sporty kids who love ice hockey and baseball: the rationale behind our, in my opinion, excessive expenditure of resources on our sons’ youth sports careers, and whether this makes any sense.
Neither of them is NHL or MLB bound. Or at least the chances, statistically, are extremely minuscule.
And yet, we have directed an inordinate amount of our life savings as well as our precious time to not only club sports, but also private lessons, to help them perfect those shots, smooth out those edges, hit those line drives, and throw those strikes.
We are not the only ones, of course—the youth sports industry has morphed into a monstrous and lucrative machine since I was a child.
It is almost par for the course now that if as a parent you want your child to excel in his or her sport, you must sign them up for club teams on top of their town leagues and take advantage of private coaches and all they have to offer.
If I’m honest, most of those coaches have been wonderful—serving as not only trainers but top-notch role models for our growing boys.
But through it all, I often wondered to myself why my boys are in the rink on a warm fall afternoon when they could be chilling at the park with their buddies, whether this is placing undue pressure on them to succeed when the very definition of success is hazy, or whether they could and maybe should just be kids, relaxing at the pool in June instead of sweating profusely in a sweltering batting cage under an instructor’s, or their dad’s, scrutinizing eye.
And of course, there is the ever-withering money tree. We are fortunate that we can afford supplemental programs; however, they do suck us quite dry at times. So there’s that, too.
For the record, my kids happily go to all these extra sessions—they have requested and continue to ask for them. My younger son loves when his dad takes him to the field to hit balls. My husband is pretty sure he’ll need shoulder surgery in the next 12 to 18 months from all the pitching he’s done as a slightly out-of-baseball-shape, middle-aged dad. My 14-year-old fantasizes about making it to the NHL, and we let him dream. He plans to attend a Division 1 hockey college, and we tell him, “That’s great, keep doing your best, bud.”
As my husband says, “A boy needs his dreams,” and I do concur with that sentiment.
Nevertheless, time and money aside, there is also the sizable emotional down payment, which in my view, was the most cogent argument for just ending all this nonsense right now and scaling way back on these extras, on the overall intensity.
When my older son decided at age 12 that he wanted to try out for Tier 1 hockey, I really balked. He was happy and confident on his Tier 2 team, and I didn’t understand the need to shake up the status quo and upend our lives as we knew it. Our family would be split constantly were he to embark on this path. He would be away at tournaments and far-off games every weekend, not to overlook the fact that there would be an unreal amount of stress to keep up and to stand out. I would never see my husband, and what remained of our family time would be shattered into pieces.
My rationale was “What is my child’s goal, realistically, and where does it all end? Is he going pro? Semi-pro? What are the chances? And is this all worth it?” I moaned. I put my foot down and felt quite sure I was the only voice of reason in my family, that everyone else had completely lost their grips on reality.
Of course, I lost. And, of course, I was wrong.
I realized as my older son embarked on his Tier 1 journey and as my younger guy came into his own as both a pitcher and left-winger that what we have been investing in all along has not been their futures as the next Judge or Gretsky, but rather their confidence as kids, their self-esteem, their ability to dream big. These are priceless artifacts especially in the formative years of their lives, as they evolve into teenagers, and beyond.
The confidence they have now from feeling like they’ve become the best athletes they can be and from playing at the highest level they can attain will mold and underpin who they are when they are young men and when they are fathers themselves.
This is why we continue to gun for it, to pay for it, to let them play club.
To continuously overuse and ice our beaten-up rotator cuffs, to encourage them to excel, and to cheer them on and support them to the best of our abilities, even—especially—during their toughest games.
Because the end goal is NOT the NHL but the development of a self-assured, unflappable young person, secure in the knowledge that it’s OK to reach for the moon.
Because helping them be the best they can be in the moment pays dividends for the rest of their lives. It has never been about training for the MLB but rather training for life.
I’m 99.9% certain my kids will never grow up to play professional sports. But never tell them I said that.