There was a time when kids played organized sports and enjoyed the experience in whatever form it took. They didn’t have much perspective on a bigger youth sports picture. Now, we turn them into little joiners. We want them connected to the best team possible. We want them to experience heightened competition at the ripe old age of nine. But is it for them and their athletic hopes, or is it just so we can look good at neighborhood gatherings?
I have known many parents who have maniacally clambered over others to have their kids play for some so-called elite team. They say they want their kids to rub elbows with the high rollers of the seven-year-old sport set. They need competition, and their kids get nothing from running around with all the other saps. They see scholarships.
Sometimes it’s a mythical coach of nine-year-olds that is the draw. Now, look, I’m a teacher and coach, so I believe a dedicated/coach teacher can help people, but even a Sentinelese fisherman could successfully coach these stacked youth all-star teams, especially when the kids are small. You get a bunch of parents to fork over $400 to play on an all-star team, and those kids will probably win. After all, the kids have to ride home with a parent who paid $400 — that car ride after a loss ain’t much fun.
My own extensive embedded-tribe anthropological pseudo-research reveals that this parenting behavior usually has nothing to do with the kids. It is largely driven by parental ego, fueled by a desire to have other parents swoon over your youth team garb. What is really wanted is the envy of the masses, the other parents, as they take in the Decimating Wrenchers 12x League Champion custom windbreakers at local barbecues and pancake breakfasts (which, by the way, Decimating Wrencher parents can almost never attend due to the Decimating Wrenchers’ intense travel schedule).
Back in prehistoric times, kids played in town leagues. They all got the same uniform. In my youth baseball league, everyone got the same greyish uniform with different hats and socks so you could tell teams apart. Parents got nothing. The kids were mixed up from year to year. One year your team ruled. The next year you played with different kids and your team got rolled.
(I remember a season I played for the Mets [light blue socks and hat]. We were having a great year but we got trounced one summer evening. We were all standing in the infield bawling during the last inning. The coach pulled us together on the mound, and he asked what we had been doing all day. Everyone either had spent the day down the shore or swimming, as I was, in a pool. Rubber-armed and sun-burnt, we had nothing left for baseball. I remember he looked kind of amused.)
In days of yore, parents would say something like this: “My little Chris plays [in] baseball.” Parents didn’t say, “My little Chris is a member of the Decimating Wrenchers, a high-level baseball team that played games in three time zones last week as testament to our excellence.”
Although little about this current moment in time in U.S. youth sports culture surprises me, I am still struck by people who fight to join some team even if it means their kid sits the bench all year. They want that damn windbreaker! And the kids, indoctrinated as all of our kids are, will see the local schlubs and say, “Have fun in your league championship game. We’ll be playing in the Class A+ Apex Tournament in Panama next weekend,” even if the most exercise that kid will get that weekend will be clapping.
But to this parent sect, does it matter that their kids, playing over their heads and spending their childhood weekends in cars driving to places like Panama, are often so sick of it all that they’re done playing by the time they’re 13? Nope.
What matters to these parents is that while they’re at that spring barbecue, which they can only attend because a class 5 tornado suspended the elite league games that weekend (barely), and the other parents are talking about their schlub leagues, they can let these poor suckers get a glimpse of the Decimating Wrencher windbreaker. If they’ve had a few beers, they might even let the suckers touch the damn thing.