I don’t know if I could make it as a kid these days. Many of the junior highers I teach need a personal assistant with the myriad of lessons, and practices, and select teams, and personal coaches, and trainers, and workouts. Those practices and trainings aren’t for naught, either, so every weekend is packed with marathon recitals and three-day tournaments in Houston, or Austin, or even Bacon, Texas (gotta love Bacon). I’m baffled at how they do it all, how they have time to do their schoolwork, and then I think about my childhood and I wonder, if I was a kid or a teenager today, could I hack it, or would I be mediocre…unsuccessful?
After school, I didn’t work out with a guy who trained professional football players, I walked to my grandparents where I played in the “Back 40”, or rode my bike, or learned from my grandfather how to change the oil in a ’54 Chevy Pickup. In the fall, my cousins and I pummeled each other with the dried cornstalks and rode riding mowers like go-carts. Make no mistake, I played sports— football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the summer. Some sports I played from first grade till graduation, and our teams were competitive. We played in tournaments, just not very far away and not every weekend, not even close. I mean, if we were playing every weekend, when would a kid hunt, fish, camp, or help on home improvements and family projects? Man, as a teen I buzzed up and down Reelfoot Lake in a little boat that I helped my dad rebuild; I didn’t have time to play every weekend, and games on Sundays… that was sacrilege.
My summer wasn’t spent in sports camps or daily workouts, I rode my bike to Richard’s house where we’d play “ghost man” baseball games in the abandoned ball field next door. We’d spray the field with line drives and gripe when the ball sailed into the woods that edged the outfield. Being convinced that wild dogs lived in there, we just left the “out-of-the-park homers” where they’d stay FOR-E-VER (remember The Sandlot?). On Wednesdays, my dad and I traveled to nearby lakes or just put in at the Mississippi River where we fished till nearly dark, often hauling in enough to feed our family for a month.
Compared to many kids I know, that kind of summer has a “lack of focus” and if I was a kid today, living that kind of life, I’d be “behind.”
There was, in fact, no focus. We never dreamed of the sports specialization that so many athletes are being pushed toward today. I was encouraged to play every sport, we all were, and I played on the same team with the same guys all through little league and into junior high and most of the same ones in high school. Sure, I had offers to leave my little league team and play for a prestigious travel ballclub, but that meant playing against the guys I suited up with since T-ball. It just didn’t seem right; it was fraternizing with the enemy.
Times have changed that is for sure, but I’m not sure I can keep up with the times. With four kids, we just can’t make those kinds of commitments or spend the kind of money they say it takes to make them a success. I feel guilty, often wondering if I’m hurting their futures by encouraging them to play sports within its particular season rather than all year. We take breaks as well to free up time for camping, or fishing, or whatever. Am I gambling with their futures? Am I just being nostalgic? Maybe, yet, I can’t help but think of all the adventures I had growing up and I turned out okay. In fact, as I tell stories to my students, they beg for more, chattering about how fun it must’ve been, and it was, so much so that I’m willing to risk my own kids being “behind” because, well, I think it’s worth it.