It’s an American rite of passage: signing your kid up for their first sports league.
This rite of passage seems to happen right around the same time parents sign their kids up for preschool.
As we aggressively call and email to get into the most prestigious preschools, just so our three-year-olds might have a chance to get ahead when they become adults, we also search frantically for the best sports league. The ones most likely to teach them the rules of the game before kindergarten so that at age five they can start drilling technique.
It’s the American way.
I just want to ask you: why?
I was that kid. I started ballet when I was three. I have a box full of trophies from dance competitions from my teenage years sitting in my parents basement. …And I have a back injury and arthritis throughout my spine that makes it so that, in my mid-30’s, I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings without pain.
Why do we do it? I taught preschool ballet for years. And honestly, if I weren’t injured, I still would. I loved working with the little girls. Every week they’d come to class colorful tutus, eager to twirl and skip and pretend to be princesses. I encouraged everyone I knew with preschool girls to sign up for a ballet class. Ballet was the rival to gymnastics, and if I could convince a mother to aim for ballet, it was a win, because I knew every mother signed their kids up for one of the two disciplines during the preschool years anyway.
I’ll never forget one particular little girl in the last class I ever taught. She was four, and she was a fantastic dancer. At the end of the year, when we filled out our evaluations of which class to enroll in the next year, I told this girl’s mother to put her in an advanced class because this girl was going be on the competition team upon entering kindergarten, if her parents agreed. At the recital, after walking off the stage, this girl dramatically wiped her hand across her forehead and said, “Thank goodness that’s done! Where’s my soccer ball?”
That mother said something that began to change my perspective on this American rite: “If that’s what she wants, then that’s what we’ll do next year.”
The child dictated what sports they pursued. As I talked with this mother, she was aiming for a well rounded child who understood the value of exercise, rather than one who filled her days with rehearsals and sports practices.
But wait. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be aiming for? The gold medal? The trophy that says “number one”?
Why? So that we can brag that our child is the best? Or because that’s what the child wants?
When we first learned we were having a boy, my husband was excited to have a basketball buddy. Instead, when my eldest was a toddler, he walked up to a piano and started playing scales. I have videos of him at age three searching for all the D’s on our keyboard, followed by him figuring out (by himself) the C chord. He started music lessons at age four. But it’s actually music therapy, something our pediatrician suggested adding to his therapy regiment because he needed something to help with anxiety, and because he loves piano. And two years later, he can play Mary had a Little Lamb. The music school he’s at does a combination of music therapy and adapted lessons. They know what they’re doing and they take it slow.
It’s not what we envisioned. Nor is our once-every-other-week preschool program with our youngest (a.k.a. MOPS), but with just that, our plate is full. If over-committed is a sign of success as an American adult, then I’m a failure. And I’ll take that failure any day over the race for my kids to be the best at everything.