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


6 Responses to “Sports at what cost”

  1. Erika Says:

    I couldn’t agree MORE with you. My daughter is 3 days away from turning 11 and it is shocking what goes on.

    First, I only allow 1 activity per season. 1. I am totally the minority. Then in the summer I do not load her up with day camps and camps and all of the other stuff that her firends do. We hang out. We are free and we enjoy the time off. This is the only time in her life to just “be.” Yes, we are busy at the zoo or playing outside, but as for committments, we have zero.

    From what I hear most parents schedule because they do not want their kids in their hair. So sad. I want my kids in my hair or I wouldn’t have had them.

    As for sports, Emily plays softball and volleyball. This was her first year in softball where it became competitive and it was shocking to us. All of the prior years were relaxed. They would have an hour of practice before a 3 hour game on an 85 degree day! It was nuts.

    Many things happened and I couldn’t believe parents didn’t say things. Peer pressure is alive and well in elementary sports this is for sure. One night there was a tornado warning. I was at home in the basement and Tyler was with Emily. Once the lightening began, Tyler pulled EMily from the game, but none of the other parents did because it was a big game. Finally the ref called the game. Other things happened this summer and some made me so angry at people I wrote about it and then pulled the post at the final hour because you just never know who read your blog!

    We live in Burnsville and it is highly competitive. We were told this year that if Emily didn’t try out for travelling volleyball she wouldn’t have a chance at High School volleyball. That is 5 years from now. Grrr.

    Can you tell how heated I get?

    In conclusion, I am completely surprised that I am a minority in both sports and overscheduling. It is just so sad.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, said, Erika, and you’ve backed up your view with specific examples that, unfortunately, do not surprise me.

      Are parents afraid to speak up and say, enough is enough? Do they truly believe their kids will miss opportunities if they don’t pursue every sporting activity available, no matter the impact on families and children?

      Honestly, very few of these kids will go on to play at the college level and even fewer will become pros.

      I like that you limit sports participation in your family and keep schedules basically free during the summer. More parents should adopt your attitude.

      Thanks for voicing your opinion about this. I do think others share your concerns, but may be afraid to say so.

  2. Lanae Says:

    I agree that kids now days don’t have enough free time. It saddens me that sports are put ahead of family. I realize when kids become involved that they know what is expected of them. I just worry how they would feel if they go to the game,miss a grandparent’s birthday and said grandparent passes. How then will they feel? I know–they regret it for the rest of their life. Family is everything. It doesn’t always mean we get along or agree. I personally don’t want to miss out. Really, ask anyone who played sports in high school. How many games do you remember??

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, said, Lanae. Sports should not take precedence over family. But it does, and I don’t know how to solve the problem except for parents to say NO to their kids and to the coaches, etc.

      You’re right too about remembering high school games. I bet, unless it was a tournament win, most now-adults don’t remember all those endless games.

      We need to teach our kids that sports aren’t the most important thing in the world. Sadly, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

  3. I actually think it is high time for parents to turn this tide, as well. It is overwhelming that some parents and coaches think an ATHLETE is defined before they are twelve years old. Adults are ruining sports for kids. The kids just want to PLAY. It’s the parents who want their kids to “make the traveling team”…sad. Check out BOB BIGELOW’s website. He makes so much sense. THis is a hot button for many families, communities, and frankly, for our nation as a whole. Just because a kid can or cannot hit the ball or dribble one better than his peers when he is five, ten, or even fifteen, does not mean he or she could not outplay their peers when they are more grown. And actually, why should we even CARE if they can when they are still in grade school and jr high????? Gets me so frustrated.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, said. I absolutely agree with all of your points.

      Parents, maybe it’s time to start speaking up to coaches and athletic directors and other parents who think sports are the most important part of a parent’s/child’s life and demand so much of our children at such a young age.

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