Monday, August 8, 2016

Sports in America


It has been my most sincere wish since Coco was born that she become a ballerina. The ballet mom lifestyle is just so much more my speed than the soccer mom lifestyle. Let's break it down: Ballet lessons happen once per week, a few more days when they're older, but with a grand total of precisely one (1) recital in the spring. Soccer moms, on the other hand, are driving back and forth to practice each week and going to weekly games on Saturday morning. That's the best morning of the week ruined by getting up and out of the house early, each and every week. Please, no!

I was never a sporty child, nor did I participate in any high school sports, unless you consider cheerleading a sport. Yet, some of my most vivid childhood memories have to do with sports. I remember loving the emerald green of our uniforms and admiring the way my own pony tail swung back and forth on my shadow as I tossed my head to and fro, daydreaming with the warm sun on my back the year I played soccer. Throughout the entire season, my uniform stayed perfectly clean. It looked so great with my dark hair and pale skin in the team photo. Jewel tones! They're still totally my colors. Then, I remember spending all of my time on the bench in sixth grade basketball. To say I was short is the biggest understatement of all time. (No pun intended;) Once, we were losing by so much, that our coach figured he might as well give me some play time. After a missed shot, and a missed rebound, I picked the ball up and actually ran under the legs of the behemoth player guarding me on the other team. No joke. That's how short I was. In softball, they created a position just for me! They told me it was sort of like a short stop, which is a very important position, but between first and second instead of second and third. Later I realized it wasn't a special position at all, but that I was just that worthless of a player. No, sports and I never did get along. But I never cared, either. My interests in theater, music and writing were enough. The arts kept me fulfilled, confident and fed my soul. In fact, all of those sporty people just seemed like a bunch of aggressive animals to me. They weren't the enlightened daydreamers I preferred to spend my time with.

All the same, I have always felt like a bit of a weirdo for not giving a twit about sports. To this day I don't follow any teams and I'm always genuinely surprised to hear that people actually watch The Olympics! Then, about a month ago, I happened upon the article The Case Against High-School Sports, published in The Atlantic in 2013, and it really struck a chord. I felt so vindicated reading as the author, Amanda Ripley, wrote, "Like most other Americans, I can rattle off the many benefits of high-school sports: exercise, lessons in sportsmanship and perseverance, school spirit, and just plain fun. All of those things matter...But as I’ve traveled around the world visiting places that do things differently—and get better results—I’ve started to wonder about the trade-offs we make." Suddenly, I saw my indifference to sports not as a harbinger of some fatal flaw of mine, or something I lacked, but rather for what it simply is: a value I do not share with my own sports-obsessed culture.

American high-schools invest an incredible amount of time and resources into sports. Student athletes who don't care about their grades and only go to class so they can play in that week's game are a well-worn cliché. For the longest time, I was horrified at the way Swiss students are openly ranked and separated into academic, professional and vocational track high schools from a young age. Now, I'm beginning to think that that focus on future achievement and career stability is way better than wasting one's teen years with the shortsighted habit of only going to class in order to play in the game that Friday night.

So far, it would appear that Coco really does not care that much for ballet. I've signed her up for another year, but most of last year she whined and protested against her weekly lesson. What she really wants to do is gymnastics. As a Montessori mama, I will follow her lead on this one because children deserve to be supported in following their own interests and I cannot deny that she does possess a great deal of athletic prowess. Coco advanced into the swimming lessons for five to eight year olds last summer when she was still three! She is a phenomenal skier. And I could see her really excelling at gymnastics. I'm proud that as a mother, I have neither passed on my hatred of tomatoes nor my irrational fear of spiders to my daughter. Now I can add to that list, my utter lack of interest in sports.

When Coco was a toddler and we were making the decision to stay in Switzerland or come back to the US, I thought that giving her an American upbringing and identity were so important to me. Somehow, I was able to overlook the fact that I don't actually share a lot of the quintessential American values to which we were coming home. I abhor the glorification of sports and sports heroes. All of the inevitable linebacker comments after Theo was born made me cringe. And I honestly can't think of a worse way to spend my weekend than watching my child compete physically against other children. But it runs deep. For some inexplicable reason, I feel almost ashamed for writing that.

It's deeply unsettling to realize that perhaps your own culture is not where you want to live and raise your children. Becoming parents abroad changed us forever. If we ultimately do decide to move back to Europe and raise Coco and Theo there, I hope they will some day understand our decision. Maybe they will even thank us some day for making it a higher priority for them to be cosmopolitan and bilingual over American and sporty.

8 comments:

  1. Amen! Thanks to giving voice to points of view that are rarely voiced. Team sports - in particular - always bore me. Yeah, I can get into a football or basketball game here or there if someone else is watching, but I absolutely hated playing team sports as a child. It was like - can I just go read a book? And I've always felt like an alien when sports inevitably comes up in conversation as an adult (like the office morning chit-chat). I dread the day (if it comes) when my child(ren) will want to do soccer in particular for the exact reasons you described. Say goodbye to lazy Saturdays. But yeah, "follow the child." Though I won't feel bad about point out more interesting activities in hope that my child will "follow." Like "hey, doesn't rock climbing look amazing?"

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    1. So glad this resonated with you! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels like an alien. ;) xo

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  2. As someone who played HS sports, I just want to share my experience of the positive side of athletics, so you can feel more positive about embracing Coco's interests. First, I loved the feeling of strength and energy and power that flowed through my body when I played. I really think it gave me a lot of confidence and strength as I grew into a woman. I learned discipline, training on my own over the summer. I learned perseverance and humility when my heart pulled me towards continuing in a sport I wasn't very good at (basketball) and accepting my place at the end of the bench. Conversely, I practiced leadership as a starter on the soccer team.
    Many of the women that I played sports with in high school were excellent scholars, and are now lawyers, journalists, teachers, and doctors. Many played one sport and pursued other interests in the off season--singing in the choir or participating in the spring musical. The stereotypical "sports culture" in the US is just that, and I'm sure that your family will be able to balance athletics with academics and the arts in a way that's right for you.

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    1. This is great to hear! I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water and I love how you point out the balance between arts and sports. Such a good thing to remember! xo

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  3. I don't like sports either and hope my kids don't. My husband calls all the types "sportsing" lol thats how little he cares. I am SO glad to have a man not glued to ESPN
    or some shit like that all the time.

    But, there are insane amounts of soccer nuts in Europe, so watch out ; )

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    1. LOL! This is great. I love how you get straight to the point without mincing your words. :) It would drive me bat shit crazy to have sports games playing ever. I am also glad not to have a man glued to ESPN.
      And yes, soccer (ahem! FOOTBALL;) is totally insane in Europe, for sure. (Also in Portland, which we may find out is actually part of Europe! ;) Hahahaha!)

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  4. This is interesting. I have terrible hand eye coordination so was never one of the sporty kids in school- I discovered sports (running, triathlon, rugby, field hockey) for myself as an adult. I was always a theatre kid, singing and dancing, with only horse riding as a sports interest. Now I'm married to an ex sports jock, rugby captain, still playing the game man, and it's hilarious that he disliked the drama kids for the same reasons we disliked the sports jocks- we each would have thought the other group were arrogant show offs who fancied themselves heroes. Very funny, and very interesting!


    Silvia at age 17 months takes after her dad- she loves to chase a ball and throw and catch. She will be starting rugby and riding as soon as she is big enough!

    I also feel strongly about martial arts as a life skill. It's great for discipline, channeling aggression positively and may be practically useful too. If someone follows her down a dark alley with dark intentions, I want them to come off worst, not her.


    Also, how can you not love the Olympics???!!! So many amazing people and so many strange and wonderful things you would never normally appreciate or see on TV. The human body is a hell of a toolkit.

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  5. As in self discipline. Not like terrifying your kids into behaving with a kickboxing display!

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