Confessions of a Reluctant Sports Parent


Trope –> noun \ˈtrōp\ : a common or overused theme or device : cliche <the usual horror movie tropes>
Soccer Mom –> noun : a mother usually from the middle class who brings her children to soccer games and similar activities

luca swimmingMy mother told me this would happen.
When I married my husband she warned me: “Your kids will grow up in a gymnasium.” It wasn’t an insult to my athletic husband or a judgment about my inherent and persistent klutziness – it was just an observation. I married a jock. Cody has coached basketball for 14 years. He has coached junior-high Navy brats, pee-wee three-on-three teams, college freshman, and most recently high school girls. He loves athletics and will chase a ball anywhere. When our first son was born he kept a stuffed basketball in the crib and hung fuzzy soccer balls across the car seat. When I suggested that we buy our six-week-old books instead of a regulation sized football, Cody said, “I guess he can throw books too.”
Watching our kids play team sports seems to be the predominate pastime for thirty something moms. In Wyoming, we drive hundreds of miles in the snow and rain (because spring doesn’t arrive here until at least June), unfold our umbrella chairs in the wind and huddle with our coffee under blankets and beanies while the kids chase each other around a field that looks suspiciously like the one we just left behind. We’re assured that our lives are “not on hold” while our kids play; we’re “making precious memories” and “learning about ourselves.” I’m not sure what I’m learning beyond the fact that sports parents are crazy and ten-year olds are easily placated with cheap plastic trophies and orange slices. I often wonder if my boys would have just as much fun with a free movie pass and unlimited access to ice cream and caffeinated beverages.
Most of my friends don’t seem as challenged by the soccer mom trope – they have this part of parenting down. They have soccer wagons (for all of those chairs) and basketball team shirts. They seem to understand most of the rules and they know exactly what to shout across the court when their kiddo scores. They take stats and snap photos with something other than their ancient smart phone. I, on the other hand, just Googled “soccer mom trope.”frank soccer
Team sports don’t always make sense to me. I am a runner and a backpacker; I like sports where I can only hurt myself. I prefer to hideout in the mountains rather than at center field with a baseball glove. But last week at a tournament in central Wyoming, Frank scored a hat trick (I had to Google that too: three goals in one game). He raced down the field to his friends who hugged and high-fived him. His coaches jumped on the sidelines and threw their fists in the air. Cody and I shook our heads in disbelief and shouted our encouragement. After the game one of the coaches stopped us on our way to the car. I expected to hear about the U10 team’s winning day; I was ready to bite my tongue. Instead, I heard about my child’s big heart. The coach told us about watching Frank repeatedly pass the ball to a teammate who hasn’t scored before. He told us that our son was leading his team, having fun, and – incidentally – learning to play soccer.
As we drove away from the field, my boys bickered in the backseat and Frank tallied his season’s goals – no signs of the big heart I’d just been so proud to hear about. I bristled and turned to look at him. He was dirty – grass stains covered his yellow jersey and orange Gatorade circled his mouth. But he was happy and tired. He’d spent the last hour running and playing with his friends. He smiled at me and drank his chocolate milk.

I think most parents know that team sports are about more than winning and losing, but it seems we only hear about the craziness of over scheduled kids and over involved parents. I’m learning to have fun on the sidelines, learning to see my kids differently. I am watching them grow into the strong, competitive, big-hearted athletes: just like their father. My mom was right. Again.

– Sarah


Good Kids

good kids

His comfort zone

I let my son quit orchestra this week.  It’s a bit hard to write, but I admit it – I let him quit.  I’d had enough with the tears and the worry and the nine-year old stress of rehearsal between football games and math homework.  I was done with driving a cello around our little mountain town because it was too big to carry on the school bus.  I was tired of writing rental checks for the giant instrument in the corner that produced only angst and a horrid screeching noise.  It was all too much.

My son is relieved.  He is glad he no longer has to air-bow his way through Monday evening orchestra rehearsals.  He’s happy to concentrate on basketball and school now that he can stop worrying about his agonizing stage fright.  It makes sense to him: “We’re not really orchestra people, Mom,” he quipped.

But I admit to being mortified.  It’s not just that my brother is a musician or that his wife is a composer or that some research shows that kids who play instruments are smarter.  It’s also not about our closest neighbors having a house full of instruments and kids who play them – really, it’s not.  I’m mostly horrified that I let him stop doing something that proved to be really hard on his nine-year old psyche.

In Wyoming there is no better compliment than being labeled a “good hand”.  Maybe this is true in other parts of America, but here we are particularly tied to the unforgiving landscape around us.  And there’s not a moment’s rest when incomes and economies rely on hard, physical labor.  It does not matter if the work is difficult or mind-blowingly mundane; we are at our core a people who value a hard day’s work – quitting is not an option.

But it is not just the realities of the rural west that has me worried about this most current parenting challenge.  Everything about mommy culture tells me my responsibility is to keep my kid committed.  I am supposed to teach this little boy dedication and perseverance.  I must show him that hard work and determination are necessary and in the long run, rewarding. He needs to learn follow through and stick-to-it-iveness. I fear entitlement and spoiled child syndrome.  Almost everyday something in mommy culture reminds me: “quitters never win.”

While I acknowledge the lessons that finishing the orchestra year might have provided, it seems possible that nine-year old Frank wasn’t the only one who could learn something about follow-through.  I needed to be reminded of my commitment to raising boys who have strong, personal voices.  I want children who speak up for themselves, who question the norms and status quo, who occasionally buck the system and ask (respectfully – I hope!) “What’s the point?”.

We are lucky: our boys have tremendous opportunities.  We live in a small place, but our state funds music and sports and the arts.  My boys have so many choices that we can’t possibly try – and stick with – everything.  I am proud of the conversation Frank and I had at the breakfast table last week.  He was calm and articulate.  He explained how lost and overwhelmed he felt; he reminded me about his attempts to practice and his other successful commitments to soccer and football.  And he made a compelling case for what he needed.  In the end I’m forced to admit – quitting was a valuable lesson for both of us.

– Sarah