Guest Post by Jennifer Wallis
What happened to hobbies? Extra-curricular activities? Past-times? Now, all the activities my children participate in have become competitive or team-focused.
As a child, I was fortunate that my parents enrolled me in all types of extra-curricular activities. I tried dance, ice skating, gymnastics, tennis, softball, piano, and basketball, to name a few, and most were run by our town recreational department. I didn’t excel in any, but I had a taste of everything. What I remember was that they were fun activities, where I did my best, but there was no pressure to be the best.
Times have changed, now it’s not the norm to have a past time–children and their parents feel it necessary to push them to the next level.
My 11-year-old daughter has taken gymnastics for years and this past year, added hip-hop to her after school activities. She has been asked to join both a gymnastics and dance team for the fall. Let’s be clear, while her gymnastics skills are good, and she has advanced throughout the years, she is definitely not going to be the next Nadia Comaneci. The gymnastic ‘team’ doesn’t even compete. The team–which everyone makes– holds practices twice a week for two hours each day.
Four hours of gymnastics a week? Yes, I know she likes it, but what is this extra practice going to give to her? Not to mention, I was told for her team level, it’s “not even that important that she makes every practice.” Sounds like a way for the gymnastics studio to bring in more money.
My eight-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a natural athlete and she loves sports. She has participated in soccer, softball and basketball. In the fall of 2nd grade, we were given the option to do town soccer or a privately run competitive soccer program, which consists of a weekly one and a half hour drills, Saturday morning practice, and Sunday scrimmages. Luckily, our daughter chose the town soccer. Lots of fun and no pressure. But my daughter was one of the few who made this choice. Over 80 children tried out for the travel soccer team, paying $200 just to qualify.
Are all of these girls really worthy of competition? When I was growing up, the most elite were chosen for teams. It was sort of an underground movement and only the lucky few were chosen.
The real question is, why does every child, and most parents, feel it’s necessary to be on a travel team? Shouldn’t there be an A team of elite players which represent the town? I have heard of private soccer coaches being hired to insure the placement on the teams. By the way, the in-town program is just as good and less of a commitment.
It’s not only soccer, I have heard the same stories from parents of baseball, softball, basketball, lacrosse, and other team sports in town. I know people who have literally changed their lives – work, vacation, summer plans, etc. – in order to accommodate their children’s travel team schedules. I know we want to provide the best for our children, but what are we teaching them? Aren’t these programs supposed to be designed to enhance our children’s lives?
I don’t want to sound like a grumpy mom, but I know the limits of my children. While I want them both to excel in their activities, I want them to have a fun, balanced life. School is the priority and activities are secondary. Why can’t we go back to the days of playing in the yard after school, signing up for recreational programs without being super-competitive? Don’t you think your kids deserve a fun without pressure?
Jennifer Wallis lives in New Jersey with her two daughters who sometimes don’t make the team. (And she’s okay with that.)