I remember playing kickball with my group of childhood friends on a small patch of land surrounded by busy streets. We referred to that special stomping ground as the island. We’d meet at the island on the weekends or after school and had specific rules about where we were allowed to kick the ball.
There were the siblings, Chad and his younger brother Jeff, from one house and another girl like me, Amy, from another house. I say Amy was a “girl like me” strictly from an anatomical standpoint. I don’t recall her wanting to play kickball, race (foot or bike), or get dirty half as much as I did. I imagine Amy hung out with us for lack of other options as none of us were as musically gifted as she was. Chad and I were only allowed to kick between the first base tree and second base tree towards the neighborhood gas station because any ball booted over shortstop or third base ran the risk of being run over by a car.
You NEVER wanted to be the one who ruined a perfectly good game of kickball because you kicked the ball into traffic. Talk about the ultimate grade school buzz kill.
Before I knew what it meant to play sports, I was using muscle groups that would help me later in life as a competitor. Climbing branches in tall trees, burrowing deep down into bushes to hide, scaling rooftops, and avoiding traffic…seriously I would never let my kids cross that same street that I maneuvered on a daily basis now that I think about it…these were all everyday activities that formed my childhood.
My kids have ample room to play in our neighborhood. The open space behind our house is quadruple the size of the island and is fortunately not barricaded by moving vehicles. Yet that open space remains empty most days outside of the occasional dog walkers or bicycle riders.
The majority of my kids’ activity schedules is comprised of organized practices and games. Yes, they have friends (some teammates and others not) who sleep over every now and then, and they know what it’s like to go on a scavenger hunt or a random hike just to soak in nature and all its glory, but I’m willing to bet that my kids’ lives aren’t too drastically different from other kids their age – at least those kids whose parents are like my husband and I and signed them up for sports from an early age.
I’ve been asked by many about what motivated me to launch GiveTheGameBack.com. What inspired me to share my own personal story about watching my children compete in sports while tuning out the sometimes negative feedback from adults on the sidelines? What was my turning point in recognizing I needed to tone down my own competitiveness and desire to win? What urged me to take a stand?
The answers to all of those questions was something on which I had to really reflect.
I was motivated to launch an information site (support group) for sports parents and promoters that includes custom apparel designed to give the game back to youth athletes, because I want to be a voice for the silent majority who are putting their kids in organized sports for the right reasons.
I was inspired to share my story because I am far from perfect. I don’t want to come off as a holier than thou mom who doesn’t have the foggiest idea about what it means to prepare athletes for the next level of competition. I may take a few bruises by sharing my belief system, but I am of the mindset that you’ve either got it or you don’t when it comes to playing sports at the collegiate level and beyond. To me, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to dump thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into trying to transform your little kid into the next Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Pele, Jerry Rice, (insert idolized athlete name here). It makes better sense to place your child on a team where he continues to hone his or her personal athletic abilities, playing for a coach who believes that sports teach lessons that extend well beyond the playing field, and with respectful and respectable teammates.
My turning point was a few summers ago when I caught myself questioning my son’s future potential because he wasn’t mastering a skill at 9 years of age that took me well into my collegiate playing days to master myself: the art of hitting a moving ball with a moving bat consistently and effectively. I challenge parents (because I’ve lived it myself) to stop and think before you yell or express frustration with your budding athletes. Ask yourself: Was I perfect in every endeavor I set out to conquer this week? If you answer “no” (and, for the record, I don’t believe you if you answer “yes”), then how can you expect a child whose brain and motor skills aren’t fully developed to do any better?
Recollecting my own childhood of playing kickball on the island urged me to take a stand. I had a fantastic, memorable childhood that involved self-discovery, taking risks, and exploring boundaries. Then I had 20+ years of playing competitive sports, which meant more to me than I can describe here. I had parents who supported me through my triumphs and tribulations. I vow to do the same for my own kids.
They get one childhood. Always remember that.
Written by Heidi Woodard
Great stuff, Heidi. I love how you are able to keep things in perspective with your kids sports rather than pushing them too hard to become what you want for them. I’ve been asked by friends about putting my boys in sports at 3 yrs to which I said “no, they’re way too young”. Kids have their entire lives to be structured – they need the outdoor time to play, grow and learn on their own just like we did as kids. Love this. Thanks for being the voice of reason in the crazy world of competitive kids sports.
Thanks Hollie. I figure if I keep writing about my feelings on this matter and putting my name behind a project designed to keep perspective, I’m less likely to publicly embarrass myself or my kids by pushing them too hard and not letting them work through lessons learned in sports on their own. That’s my PLAN anyway. I will always meddle a little…heck, isn’t that part of a mom’s job description? 🙂
I think I went down this road with you a couple years back, but I draw greatly from one of the final chapters of the book, The Games Do Count. In that chapter George Will talks about his childhood baseball days before he got involved with little league. He and his friends were essentially the league. They had to procure a location, designate a time, ensure proper equipment, and enough players to play two sides.
Although he was complimentary of youth sports, he spoke about how, with the high institutionalization of structured sports in the modern era, our kids have lost the qualities he and his friends developed by doing it themselves.
I recall my own father pushing my brother and I out the door on Saturday mornings making it clear we weren’t welcome back home until lunch time — and pickup football was the best possible option 😉
I’m so glad you reminded me of that book title again. That’s going to be it. My first audio book to help get me through my on-again-off-again workouts. I’ll let you know what I think after reading it.