Tuesday, June 26, 2012

thoughts from the sidelines, part 1

Readers of this blog know that I was on hiatus for much of the spring due to the demands of Little League. Three kids on three different teams added lots of logistics to our already busy lives. As I previously have hastened to clarify, I am not complaining. Every scrap of evidence indicates that my sons adore playing baseball, and most spring evenings, there's nowhere I'd rather be than watching them and their teammates do their thing. I see Little League season as nine weeks of insanity in which we are totally invested, knowing that the demands of that  investment will ease after the last All Star and playoff games. As much as I deeply dig it, I was eager for the end of the season in mid-June so we could get back to some semblance of a routine that, for example, allowed us to eat dinner together before nearly 8:00pm.

A couple of weeks ago, when that end was in sight, a curve ball came our way. The truly awesome volunteer coaches who run our neighborhood Little League got organized to pull together teams for a summer tournament that will, eventually, produce a local team that proceeds to a regional tournament that will, eventually, feed into the Little League World Series. Our oldest and middle sons were chosen for the 11-12 year old and 9-10 year old teams. Practices started the day after the last playoff game, with the double elimination tournament starting in late June (on Thursday of this week! 2 days from now!) and running for a few weeks. 

Of course, the guys were totally up for it, superproud and thrilled they had the chance to keep playing. And so were we--not only my husband and I but the bigger we of grandparents, friends, relatives, teachers, coworkers, pretty much anyone with whom any of us struck up a conversation. This tiny thing, their participation on these teams, gave me a glimpse into what athletic success means to people. It's something to celebrate for which most of us have a shared cultural context. 

I am proud of my kids in a thousand specific ways that have not one thing to do with measurable achievement, of course. Just to name three: I am proud of the way my oldest son took on a great deal of responsibility around the house when I started a job with a long commute last year. I am proud of the compassion, empathy, and peacemaking skills that my middle son possesses and values. I am proud of my youngest son's prodigious Lego skills and his ability to focus on what he's building for hours on end in order to achieve his vision. 

These are the things that matter most to me. Nevertheless, I found myself sharing this baseball tournament team news widely and loudly, and really enjoying people's positive reactions. I know full well that their baseball prowess has little to do with their parents. Our support and enthusiasm have made their participation possible. But the fact that the guys are good athletes who are willing to put in hours of practice--that's all them, and we celebrate them for this milestone which will very likely be over quickly. Yes, it disrupted our summer fairly significantly. We changed the dates of our summer vacation, which camps they are attending, and the hours we work. We're still eating dinner at 8:00pm when we want to eat together. My poor littlest kid, who is six - he is one tired guy and he isn't even playing. 

This has given me a peek into what the life of a sports parent - not a soccer mom, but whatever is beyond that - must feel like. And we aren't doing any of the crazy stuff. We have drawn the line at travel teams. While the guys do neighborhood sports camps, we aren't seeking out superfancy training options, and we don't plan to do so. Sometimes, people who are enthusiastic about developing kids into competitive athletes will look at the guys and suggest that we pursue these things. But right now: no. I am happy about this tournament thing, but it's as much additional disruption as we can take.

It's not easy to draw that line, and I suspect it won't get any easier as they get older and want to keep playing. I worry that we're putting our needs for convenience and a stable family life ahead of their pursuit of their passions, though I also know it would be all too easy to put them in a situation in which they could overdo it and be dealing with overuse injuries and/or burnout as teenagers. I'm just starting to discover what parents of kid athletes know very well, that figuring out what's best for your kid is tricky.

Enough for today, though there's way more to say about this and I'll be pursuing that in upcoming blog posts.

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