I love sports. I come from a family that aren't really athletes. My own interest developed when I was a child and grew greater and greater each year. I played on school teams, city teams, and then in house league teams as an adult. I played baseball and soccer and field hockey and volleyball. If there's a game on, you can bet I'm in.
My children have developed that same love, and it excites me. I have always loved the idea of a family getting together to play a game of this or that. Touch football at Thanksgiving or volleyball at the beach or soccer at the cottage...those pickup games that go on until everyone collapses in exhaustion and partakes in a big meal.
I have never loved the idea of "rep" sports. These are usually la crème de la crème of young players. The fees are big, the schedule is overwhelming, and the travel can be exhausting and expensive. Usually one child in the family makes the team and the rest are left being lugged along. "No child of mine will ever play rep sports."
Well, you should know that the first rule of parenting is "never say never." Because once you set your foot down on something you will be faced with exactly that dilemma.
Up until this year, we have had the boys in baseball leagues in the summer. But over the school year this year, both Colin and Caleb have played so many soccer games at recess and lunch I've lost count. In fact, I could probably count on two hands the number of recesses they didn't play soccer. And in a small school, it meant they were playing with and learning from the older kids, which pushed their natural talent and developed into real skills.
I just never realized how far they had come. Last month Colin was at a birthday party of a good friend whose parents we know well. The birthday boy's father (a good friend of James') approached James at the end of the party and asked if he could submit Colin's name for the town's rep soccer team. It took James by surprise, but this Dad, whose kids are really into the soccer scene, insisted that Colin was good. Really, really good.
The conversation was compassionate, but short. We explained the fees were too high and the schedule too time-consuming. Colin was sad but we agreed to look into switching him to a more competitive league next year. (This year all three boys are playing in a very casual, fun league, with parent volunteers for coaching. It's more of a chance to play than an opportunity to learn any real skills.)
This week, however, my mind started shifting. At our Wednesday night soccer league, I was cheering as Caleb scored a goal on his team. His age division is ages 6-8, so he is probably the very youngest person in his whole league. But he owned the field. I was really surprised to see the skill with which he handled the ball. Of the 5 goals his team scored, he got 4. The other team scored 1. I cheered wildly at his goal, and then was approached by a dad of a girl on our team. "Are you Caleb's mom?" he asked. I nodded, and he looked at me quite seriously. I imaged I was going to be chastised for letting my son be a ball hog. I had been worrying about it as I watched, but it wasn't that Caleb was barrelling in and stealing the ball from everyone, it was just that he could actually carry it down the field. "He's good. He's really, really good." Those same words I heard about Colin echoed again. I nodded dumbly. But that wasn't the end. "I grew up in England and played football (soccer) in some pretty big leagues. Some of my teammates are now playing in the world cup. Your son is really good, and if you can get him in a rep league, he will go far."
I don't think I visibly shuddered at the words "rep league" this time. The dad left me in my stupor, and dribbled his soccer ball farther down the sidelines. I saw him later doing a bunch of tricks with the ball that were frankly amazing. He clearly knew what he was talking about.
All of a sudden I'm on the other side of the fence. Before I would peer over and look down upon the idea of such a thing, but I never thought my children would have the kind of skill necessary to try out. Not that I don't expect my kids to excel, but it is a very elite kind of natural ability you need to ever start the hard work necessary to join the team. But here I am.
What do I do? This is obviously not about my kids becoming professionals. That is a whole other kettle of fish in terms of talent, and not a world I want my kids to becoming embroiled in. But what happens when a child of your shows an unusual level of talent in something? If it was music, would I have such a hard time committing to recitals and practicing and expensive lessons? What if it was academic? Space camp or extra tutoring? Do I have a prejudice against time and money or against sports specifically? I have always been an advocate of childhood being about learning and exploration and fun. But if my child has the desire, drive and ability to do something more, something specific, how do you deal with it?
For now, we've told the boys that next year we will move them to a more competitive league, and see what happens. If they have friends in rep, if they could be on the same team, if we could use gift money or fundraising, if we could somehow create a balanced schedule...is it possibly in our future?
(Never say never.)