When Health and Recreation Programs Become Human Performance Laboratories, Who Pays?

Last week I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in some time. She has three kids: one graduating college, one beginning his second year at university and one nearly finished with high school. “So, what about you?” I asked, “What are you doing with yourself?”

“Oh, the kids are still keeping me busy. I really don’t have time for much else.” she said.

Really, I thought but I didn’t say, you’re having a little trouble letting go, aren’t you?

This generation of kids is the most fawned over and evaluated of all time. And I’m not sure this is healthy for anyone. In the name of building their self-esteem and preserving their self-image we have made them the centers of their own universes. Which, of course, become our universes. If we want to do something we have to check it against their schedule. Bike ride? Nope, tournament this weekend. Ice cream? Nope, taekwondo today. Family vacation? Nope, mandatory try outs.

I wonder what would happen if we put the family events on the calendar first, then scheduled the extra-curriculars? I hear parents screaming at me now… But they’d get cut from the team! …But I paid for those classes! … But their teammates are counting on them!

Really? I wonder what would happen if, in the name and memory of Martin Luther King Jr, we started a groundswell of passive resistance against everybody else demanding where our kids need to be. Including our kids.

As I duck the stones of derision that are being hurled my way I just want to ask a question of my friends and fellow sports-handcuffed families. Are you happy with how life is going for you and for your kid? No, really. Do you feel whole? Have you asked?

Most folks, when they get honest with me, hearken back to the “good ole days.” When life was simpler and kids played outside with the neighbors of all ages with no concern for their safety or who won the game. When we were called home for dinner at 6:00 and we all sat around the table, listening and telling stories of the day. A Beaver Cleaver kind of reminiscence.

Cut to today, and friends like mine who are intelligent, well-educated, driven individuals (and usually moms) have chosen to stay home to support their families. In fact they have adopted momming as a profession, and they are amazing with the calendar, the carpooling and the volunteering. Their heads are on a constant swivel, making sure their kids have everything they need to become…um, professionals.

And that’s what stops me. As professional Moms, our objective is for Sam to “be like Mike” or Samantha to “be like Mia.” That is, in our heart of hearts, we want to boost them right to the top. To make them into the finished product we in the advertisements featuring Michael Jordan or Mia Hamm. Forgetting that Michael and Mia didn’t start that way and weren’t raised that way. They came up through the ranks, working it out, discovering who they were, facing their insecurities, conquering their fears. Sport was the battle ground for them to claim their identity.

Make that worked her way to the top.

And I say “sport” instead of “sports” on purpose. There’s a difference. We have always celebrated sport. From ancient Greece to the modern day Olympics, we have recognized athletes for their desire, competitive attitude, and their willingness to participate. Many of our best stories come from those who suffered hardship and fought racial and gender bias just to be there. Imagine what stories are told around THOSE dinner tables.

Somehow we have made sport into sports. A new age environment of entertainment and partisanship, fanatical following and celebrity status. We have mistaken a dollar sign for the “s” and inflated its value. It’s come at tremendous cost.

When I was first trained in my profession, our department was called Human Kinetics and Leisure studies. Health, recreation and dance was grouped together with sport science. Now, universities pay huge sums of money to teams of professionals staffing human performance laboratories to prepare our kids for their sports. What does it say when health and recreation programs become human performance laboratories? When the margin of victory is so small that any price will be paid for a nearly disposable suit that makes me faster or a pill that will make me stronger or a shot that will allow me risk permanent injury just to keep playing.

Did you know that NFL sideline’s docs now have a medication that can be administered onsite to lessen the damage to the brain of a concussed player? This is hailed as progress? Where, oh where has sport gone wrong?

I have a feeling it may have begun when parenting became a profession and play became a career path. A friend recently drew me aside to pose this: “isn’t it funny that in the 60’s, we played outside with too much freedom because staying inside was too confining and now, we must register our kids to play outside but inside they’re free to roam anywhere on the internet?”

In the name of loving our kids we may need to loosen the reins a bit while we look over their shoulders a tad more. Just to see what they’ve been up to and to find out what they learned today – about themselves. Probably would make good dinner table conversation.

Comments are closed.