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Balancing Sports With Family: A High Wire Act For Many

Parenting shouldn't be a competitive sport

Vortex of Craziness

I am not certain if it was because I was a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising triplets or because my love of the outdoors and sports and recreation led me to want to spend time with my children outdoors and playing sports but I refused, as one mother described it in an e-mail to MomsTeam, to "get sucked into a vortex of craziness" that is today's youth sports. I did not sign my sons up for too many activities at one time. I didn't view parenting as a competitive sport. In order to survive, I knew I needed to emphasize cooperation and collaboration among and between my kids over competition. They usually only played one sport per season, and while they were busy during the season with practices and games on weekends and tournaments on holiday weekends, their lives were not overscheduled. They all took summers off, which not only gave them a chance to just be kids and to unwind from the pressures of school and sports but freed up time for the family to go on a yearly summer vacation.

We almost always ate dinner together, even when the boys were in high school. My sons had free time for hobbies, reading, listening to music, collecting cards, hanging out with their friends; to build forts in the woods, throw around a football, kick a soccer ball, toss a Frisbee, play badminton or shoot hoops. They are still physically active and in good shape: rock climbing, snow boarding, hiking and biking are an important part of their daily lives.

Family Activities

When I was growing up on the ocean the only sport that my mother - a former world-class synchronized swimmer - demanded that my sisters and I learn was swimming because it was the only one that could potentially save our lives. She never had to push us into playing any other sports - our interest in other sports came naturally. It was a different story when I visited my father and stepmother in Vermont. Sports were paramount and always a family activity. My father and stepmother were the ultimate outdoors folk. From sunrise to sunset they had us skiing, horseback riding, sailing, canoeing, hiking, fishing, ice skating, golfing, and playing tennis or paddle tennis. We learned to love - and I still enjoy - every single one of those sports. The sports and outdoor activities we did together as a family kept us close.

Playing as a Family

The balance between family time and sports time is different for each family, of course, but when my husband and I were raising our sons, we made a point of exposing them to a lot of different sports. At one point or another, they took fencing lessons, were members of a swim team, played youth basketball and lacrosse, learned how to ice skate, played squash with me or their father, played badminton and tennis, ran track, went on family skiing and snowboarding trips, played football, soccer, and baseball, went fishing and on bicycling trips, and engaged in mountain and rock climbing. You name it-they played it.

We enjoyed being with our kids, spending time with them, not just turning them over to coaches. We wanted their character to be developed at home and to be revealed on the fields and courts. They enjoyed spending time with us. They played select soccer, but only when they got to the U-12 level. Before that they played recreational soccer and Little League baseball. Spencer and Hunter tried Babe Ruth baseball for one season, but as the youngest players by almost a year, they got tired of the politics and sitting on the bench, and switched to track and lacrosse.

One summer, my husband and I took them and a team of boys to Scotland for a soccer tournament, but the goal was to have fun, not to win. We lost every game - some by lopsided scores - but it didn't matter a bit: we had fun and got to see and play against some superb youth soccer teams (one from San Paolo, Brazil was affiliated with the famous Italian professional soccer team, Juventus).

My experience showed that it is possible to balance sports and family. My kids are proof that loving relationships with parents contribute far more to success as adults than do awards.

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