Parents today feel a lot of pressure to help their offspring find their passion. Social media magnifies this pressure, as we watch our comrades invest in activities like sports teams that travel to other states, horses, dirt bikes, or backyard trapeze setups.
My memory is fuzzy, but I think we signed our son up for t-ball shortly after he learned to walk. I do vividly remember coaching one of his teams when an 8-year-old revealed that his parents had hired him a “batting stance coach.” This particular boy, who showed lukewarm interest, said that his parents wanted him to try out for the travel team. I have no doubt that his well-meaning parents were simply worried their boy would be left behind if they didn’t give him every advantage.
Travel sports started as a way for elite kids to play other elite kids. A 2018 article in The Atlantic confirmed what I suspected: Travel leagues are now so commonplace it’s no longer about elite kids; it’s about signing up kids whose parents can afford it. I won’t minimize the camaraderie the kids get from taking road trips with their teammates, but we can’t pretend they’re all getting drafted or offered Division I scholarships.
I sympathize with parents who feel the pressure to give their children the opportunity to have the best possible experience. Our kids have tried baseball, scouts, karate, art camps, photography, soccer, and a host of other things, hoping for something to stick.
For our daughter, it’s theater. For years she’s taken dance classes with fluctuating enthusiasm. When we signed her up with an established youth theater company, things fell into place. Her first role was as a comedic henchman in 101 Dalmatians. The final week involved an intense six straight days of five-hour rehearsals, followed by four ticketed shows. I expected her to be ready for a break. Instead, she was ready to head to Broadway. She’s doubled up on her dance classes and added voice lessons. It’s not cheap, but don’t tell that to my college buddy who keeps not one, but two, horses for his daughter in a barn outside Seattle (turns out the first horse’s passion wasn’t competition).
Our son was a tougher one to guide. Our philosophy has always been that our kids don’t have to do something they don’t want to do, but they have to do something. When he asked to do archery, we took him to Brandon to try it. (I confess, my wife took him because I was afraid I’d end up driving him to Brandon every week.) Turns out, he genuinely enjoys it, and yes, I’m now driving to team practice in Brandon every week. There’s some irony in the fact that the only kind of archery is “travel archery” and it’s all about his stance.
The boy also loves to fish and play golf. What dad will argue with that? I think the highlight of his young life was catching his first bonnethead shark and winning a tournament at fishing camp. This has the added benefit of literally putting food on the table. After years of taking group lessons through the First Tee youth golf program at Twin Brooks, he’s joined his middle school golf team.
Watching our kids shine at things they enjoy is one of the most rewarding parts of parenting. It’s a far greater feeling than I’ve had for any accomplishment of my own. And I’ll admit that I’m a little less judgy of those parents who travel far and wide for their kids’ activities. But stop me if you see me shopping for a 1,000-pound animal.
I don’t have anywhere to put it.