Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I know a bunch of you are going to want to throw tomatoes at me when you’re finished reading this column, so I’m prepared.
I don’t know why I write stuff that I know will get people riled up, but I guess I was all riled up myself on Monday when we wrote this, because we’ve had snow like you wouldn’t believe here. The major highways have been closed. There have been tons of accidents. And still people are driving their kids to sports tournaments. It just seemed so unsafe to me, and so I went off on a tangent.
I know that there are good things about team sports, but I do sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it. I’ve written about the usefulness of some of these extracurricular sports before. But believe me, I know some families who balance it all wonderfully.
If that’s you, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Please believe me. But I still wonder, when I look at the time and money commitment (let alone the safety issues in weather like we’ve been having) if it’s always a good idea.
So I wrote this column.
You can commence throwing tomatoes now.
I’m the wrong one to write a column called “Are Sports Teams Worth It?”, because I was the kid who hyperventilated whenever we played soccer in gym class. I hated team sports; other people would be looking at me and relying on me.
So when I see parents in my social circle spending most weekends on the road to sports tournaments, and forking over huge amounts of cash in the process, I just don’t get it. It’s almost like I’m watching a foreign movie without subtitles. It doesn’t compute.
Once upon a time, of course, sports were easy.
In the 1950s, my father-in-law and his friends would lace up their skates on a pond and play hockey all day. Soccer was just kicking a ball around in the local field. But now everything is so regimented and expensive and complicated. And instead of being just a fun, informal thing, it becomes a Very Big Deal.
Certainly hockey is the Canadian birthright, and one shouldn’t question it, but have you ever done the math? If you have your child in a hockey league, it can easily cost $3000 a year per child. There’s the hockey equipment and the team fees, which can often be $1000. But the real kicker comes with all the travel. Driving to games, paying for hotels, paying for food and grabbing a drink while you’re out really adds up. Even a relatively cheap sport, like soccer, can run into several thousand if the kids have to go out of town for games. Then, to add to the indignity, the clubs spend their lives fundraising, and as a parent you’re stuck selling 100 chocolate almond bars or bags of Florida oranges to everyone you work with.
But it’s not just the cost. It’s the time.
I see families with two or more kids on different teams, and almost every weekend they’re heading out somewhere, often separately. Practices and games eat up multiple nights a week. When do you have dinner as a family? When do you do homework? When do you just relax?
I was at a friend’s fiftieth birthday recently where a bunch of grandmas sat around the table comparing stories. One shared about her daughter and son-in-law’s schedule with three boys in hockey. She was flabbergasted at how much money they were spending (they’re just racking up debt, she said), and how their lives were so chaotic. I asked her, “When do the parents get any time together alone?” “They don’t,” she chuckled ruefully.
Then last weekend the skies opened up and dumped so much snow on my community that I can hardly see over our snowbanks. Police warned motorists to stay off the roads. There were over 1700 collisions in Ontario on Saturday alone. And yet I know of several local sports teams where parents drove their kids to out-of-town tournaments–and all the kids showed up. Facebook was littered with, “It was a really stressful drive, but we made it!”
Really? Parents risked their children’s lives in the worst weather we’ve had all year, with highway closures and whiteouts, just for a game? And the organizers didn’t cancel? I can understand heading out if your job depended on it, or if it was a major life event.
But perhaps we’re taking this too seriously.
That’s the only explanation I have. I know parents who do a great job with sports, and they love it, and the kids are thriving. It certainly can be done. But when I look at the financial outlay, and the time commitment, and the fact that you have so little time at home, I just find it hard to think it’s worth the cost. Maybe I should relinquish my Canadian citizenship for even daring to suggest it, but I don’t get it. Am I the only one?