Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sports at what cost December 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:43 AM
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I’VE NEVER BEEN ATHLETIC. When elementary school classmates picked teams for Red Rover or softball, I was among the last chosen. Who would want a skinny girl with toothpick arms trying to hold the line against brawny boys becoming men or strong farm boys who could slug the ball into the outfield?

I wouldn’t have chosen me either. Even though I could scoop silage and ground feed, carry milk pails and toss hay bales nearly as well as my brothers, I possessed no athletic prowess. And, frankly, I didn’t care, although it did hurt sometimes to always be the last team member chosen.

I needed to care about sports only enough to pass physical education classes. I remember one junior high school p.e. teacher who expected everyone in the class to excel in gymnastics, just like the pencil-thin, all-legs-and-arms girl who could bend like Gumby. Needless to say, I got a “C” in that class. Thankfully today’s gym teachers seem to have changed their expectations and grading tactics, realizing that not every student is a naturally-gifted athlete.

But too many parents think their kids are the next Brett Favre, Joe Mauer or whoever else is considered a sports star. (Those are the only two names I could come up with off the top of my head since I don’t follow professional sports.)

Anyway, in my opinion, too many parents have become obsessed with athletics, pushing their little Jimmy or Janie into multiple sports that continue non-stop year-round. When, exactly, do kids have time to relax and just be kids? How can they learn to use free time, to entertain themselves, if their lives are always scheduled with this practice and that practice and this game and that game?

Now, before I raise the ire of coaches, parents and student athletes, let me clarify that student athletics have value. Kids learn to work hard. They learn team work and self-discipline. They learn to set and achieve goals. And they get a good work out. Sports can also be entertaining.

The problem arises, in my opinion, when sports overtake family life and everything evolves around practices and games. This time of year I am especially troubled by the scheduling of practices and tournaments during holiday breaks. When student athletes should be celebrating with their families or simply enjoying some down time, they are running to practices and games and tournaments.

I remember a friend once telling me about her son’s soccer game scheduled on a week night in Marshall, a three-hour, one-way, drive from Faribault. Now tell me that makes sense. None of the moms wanted to go and I can’t blame them given their sons were only middle-schoolers. That’s just one example of how ridiculous this traveling sports competition has gotten.

I wonder, too, how families can afford, weekend after weekend, to travel out of town for tournaments, shelling out money for gas, fast food, admission tickets and hotel rooms. How do they work those multi-hundred dollar weekends into their family budgets and is it worth the money spent? Maybe. Maybe not.

Sunday practices and games for student athletes also bother me. A lot. I’ve often wondered why parents don’t simply revolt against coaches and organizers (or whomever) that schedule these Sunday activities.

Are sports so important at the elementary and high school level that families have to give up their Sundays?

NOW IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING what prompted this spiel, I will tell you: Brett Favre and the collapse of the Mall of America Field roof.

I really do not care about Favre or whether he played in Monday’s  Minnesota Vikings’ game. But the amount of news coverage earlier this week made me think I should care. Honestly, why?

As for the dome collapse, I dislike how some are now using this incident to say, “We need a new stadium.” Well, this taxpayer does not want to pay for a new Vikings stadium. Let the Vikings, with their highly-paid football players, pay for their own stadium.

But, hey, you know, this society seems obsessed with sports…

I’m sure many will disagree with the opinions I’ve expressed here. But I’m certain many of you out there will agree. What’s your take on sports at the elementary and high school level and how athletics impact families? And, what’s your opinion on a new stadium? Sorry, I’m not asking your opinion on Favre, but if you want to offer one, go ahead.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling