When we moved to Switzerland four years ago, my kids hadn’t reached the point where sports were an ordinary part of our lives. They reluctantly participated in whatever athletic endeavor struck my fancy when I received the local YMCA registration. Usually, my choices revolved around nap times and when I needed a break from staring at the four walls of my living room.
Living overseas, we were at the mercy of the international school sports program, which happened to be run by a happy-go-lucky Ghanian soccer star and a grumpy German whose idea of gymnastics involved the kids schlepping the heavy mats around the gym and occasionally rolling around on them. As genetics would have it, my kids didn’t play soccer. And I taught schlepping for free, mostly in the form of overloaded suitcases. Many of the students came from Europe or South America, so traditional American sports weren’t offered in the lower school. The middle school did offer them, and this allowed for a my daughter to play softball and basketball in a super low-key environment with students who likely hadn’t played an “American” sport before.
It was fantastic. And fun, really, really fun. It offered the perfect on-ramp for learning teamwork and good sportsmanship, while the parents sat around and chatted, half of us never understanding the rules of the games. (Sadly, as a confirmed anti-athlete, I still know nothing about any of these sports. My husband once caught me reading a book at a minor league baseball game, which may contribute to the problem.)
Fast-forward four years, and we have immersed ourselves into every sport our township and schools have to offer. I spend a lot of time cheering for things I don’t completely understand, which is basically how I operate in daily life, so I’m working within my skill set here. As I sit on the sidelines with some intensely involved (read: obnoxious) parents, discussing the merits of a six-day per week and late-night practices, I feel thrust into deep waters.
My husband coached basketball for two of our kids teams, and I discovered that he was one of the few coaches who didn’t throw their hands up in utter despair and mouth unpleasantries at eleven year olds trying to hold their own on a court. One grandpa turned to me yesterday and remarked, “I like him. He’s gentle with the kids”, while M stood across the court high-fiving each and every one of them.
I know a family whose lives are held prisoner by their kids athletic schedules. Church, friendships, school, even normal everyday life bows down to the almighty sports god. I see how it becomes an idol, and I fear that we will fall into this trap of idolatry, never returning to a sense of fair play and fun. Parents, where is all the fun?
I don’t have any answers, only questions and wishful thinking. I won’t ever push my kids to be the best at every game, but if I’m going to sit on the sidelines for hours every week, I want us to learn from and enjoy it. Idol-less, with high-fives included.