The Little League season was just wrapping up and the fantastically brief (thank God) playoffs were days away when the questions started coming at me, rapid-fire, while I sat on the metal bleachers or leaned against the chain-link fence behind home plate or lingered in the dugout area: Is your son playing summer baseball?
My reply, “Nope, the kids aren’t playing any sports this summer,” typically evoked mystified stares and question marks floating in cartoon-like bubbles over people’s heads. How could I, a parent with a son in Little League, opt to NOT sign him up to play baseball games from now ‘til early August, the month in which (give me strength) the youth sports season starts again? What was WRONG with me? the parents seemed to be thinking.
Summer baseball is a growing phenomenon in my suburban Boston town and its popularity seems to be blossoming in light of the successes of previous teams. But my decision to go against the grain and my statement that not only will my 9-year-old be sitting out summer ball, but my 12-year-old twins won’t be playing any sports over the summer either, makes me a quasi sports mom anarchist.
I often respond to the inquiries by saying that after lugging the children around to practices and games for 10 months out of the year – each kid plays on a single team per season, though my 9-year-old’s hockey “season” runs unmercifully from August to April and slightly overlaps with baseball – I personally need to take two months off from youth sports. I don’t want to see our summer evenings and any vacation plans we might want to enjoy as a family sacrificed for time spent, miserable, at games on a dusty field in 90-degree heat and high humidity and where dinner is cruddy take-out because I didn’t have the chance to go grocery shopping between the work I have to do and the kids’ sports schedules, because if I allow one kid to play a summer sport, all three would want to. It’s only fair. Call me an anti-sports mom if you will, but that’s not my idea of hot fun in the summertime.
This outsized, play-youth-sports-all-the-time pressure isn’t simply restricted to baseball, here in the land of Red Sox Nation. There has been pressure for my twin soccer players to play on multiple soccer teams, the recreational town team plus pricey club teams and, in the winter, indoor soccer teams. I’ve resisted and told them the kiddos that can’t play consecutive seasons of the same sport back-to-back (hence my major problem with the fact that the hockey season lasts for-freakin’-ever). When it comes to baseball, some children not only play spring and summer baseball through our town, but also join a private club baseball team. Many children play multiple sports in a single season, even when there’s more than one kid in the household.
The fact that I only allow my offspring to play a single sport per season has prompted some folks to raise their eyebrows, as though I’m somehow singlehandedly standing in the way of my children’s future athletic scholarships to college. (Nothing against my children’s physical prowess, but it’s more likely that I’ll be struck by lightning than it is that any of my kids will secure an athletic scholarship. The odds of receiving an athletic scholarship — never mind one that would cover the costs of tuition and fees – are, to quote a national magazine, “remote.” Academic scholarships are another matter . . .)
It’s not that I have anything against sports. I love sports. As I mentioned, all three of my kids play sports 10 months out of the year. I’m a huge Red Sox fan and we, as a family follow the Celtics, Patriots and, as of late, the Bruins. But when it comes to the havoc that non-stop, intrusive youth sports wreaks upon family life – try having a semi-organized work and family life when there are no regularly scheduled hockey practices and the practices and games just pop up in your inbox with little notice, like less than 24 hours notice – and the injuries overspecialization can cause to young, growing bodies a line has to be drawn somewhere. Even professional athletes have off season down times, why shouldn’t my kids enjoy two measly months without having to report to a sports practice? (Actually my 9-year-old will barely have two months off because his hockey practices start in mid-August.)
So go ahead and ask me if my kids are going to play any kind of summer ball or join a private club team, in addition to town teams. As shocked as you might be by my negative response, I’m just as surprised that so many people — including myself when it comes to hockey — are willing to go along with all this insanity.