I was shocked when, just a few years ago, I came across this picture of my 3rd grade baseball team. What shocked me was the faces of the players. It wasn’t that most of the players, except me, were smiling. It’s that they were beaming. With 6 of my own children, all of whom played sports in grade school, I’ve seen lots of pictures of teams my children played on. In these pictures, the kids might have been smiling, but their smiles weren’t like those of my 3rd grade baseball teammates.
So what’s wrong with the picture? Well, for starters, you can quickly see that we did not have uniforms. We did not even have identical baseball caps.
Here’s what’s really wrong about the picture. It’s not something that would be readily apparent. The only parents that came to our games were the two coaches, both of whom appear in the picture. Why didn’t the parents come? And how could the boys be smiling with exhilaration when their parents weren’t going to their games?
Back in those days, my teammates and I were simply PLAYING baseball, with the emphasis on PLAYING. The fact that we were just playing at baseball meant that it wasn’t important enough to our parents or to us that the parents should have been expected to attend our games. There was very little difference between our playing in the backyard and playing in a baseball league. There was no peer pressure on parents to show up at a baseball game for 9 and 10 year olds.
Of course, today it’s different. Kids start organized sports even earlier. They all have uniforms. Virtually all the parents show up, because you’re considered to be a good parent if you go to every event your child is involved in, and you’re a bad parent if you don’t. With all the parents present, there is a lot more pressure to perform well and to win. Many of the parents get upset with the coaches, the umpires and the opposing team.
The smiles of the children aren’t the same as with my 3rd grade team. And the faces of so many of the parents are characterized by glazed eyes, as at each game they settle in for one more event at the all too familiar gym, or pool, or auditorium.
I know that parents today enjoy watching their children play sports. At the same time, I also know that there is the considerable force of parental peer pressure to attend every single event their children are involved in. And the reality is that the presence of parents at a ten-year old child’s event has a low level of significance.
I wish that parents would save more of their energy for more substantive aspects of parenting, such as meaningful communication, formation in faith and virtue and general education. I am concerned that parents, after arriving home from their child’s baseball game, decide that being at the game satisfies their parenting responsibilities for that day or that evening. It’s far more important what happens under our roofs than on the field or in the gym.