What prompted my last post is my fascination with my sports-mad in-laws. Their family life is so different than anything I have every observed before that I have never quite gotten my mind around it.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law (BIL and SIL) were both great athletes growing up. To his great credit, my husband's father was completely gender-neutral in the way he raised his kids, so he pushed my husband's sister really hard. And, unlike my community, there were programs for girls where my husband grew up. Also, because of her dad coaching her and pushing her, my husband's sister was also able to participate in a lot of leagues that were mostly boys. My husband remembers every weekend morning being dragged out bright and early with his sister to hit the ski slopes or the baseball field.
I've known BIL and SIL since their kids were one and four. The kids are now 12 and 15. It was determined before these kids were even sentient that they would be athletes. Heck, BIL and SIL even picked out their son's jock nickname before he could talk, and that is indeed how he is known out on the field now that he is in high school. And certainly over the last eleven years, sports has been the thread that binds the fabric of my in-laws' family and social lives. Both parents coach and both kids are on sports teams all year round. Dinner table discussion focuses on changes to league rules (which the parents know cold), what the kids can do to improve their technique, which other kids in the community have athletic potential, and the varying merits and prices of certain athletic gear. Most of my in-laws' friends are other parents whose kids play sports. When I went to a cocktail party at my in-laws recently, the conversation revolved around kids' sports teams.
I often feel like an anthropologist exploring a whole new world. I had no idea that sports could be so all-consuming. As a kid, I knew my family was more indifferent to sports than most, but I had no idea that there were families that were so focused on sports. My parents thought it was cool when I did well as a runner, but there was never a lot of focus on it. My parents had no idea who my coach was nor did they think it was an area where I needed to be pushed. It was just a fun activity that I seemed to enjoy and that was good for my health.
I think organized, competitive sports are great for kids. I see my niece and nephew learning how to deal with having a bad day, making a mistake and moving on, and what it's like to both win and lose. They are healthy, fit, and coordinated. They are confident in their physical abilities. They are confident working with a team. They understand the virtues of practice, practice, practice. They have learned how to deal in a clear-eyed and pro-active way with deficiencies in their own performance. I am confident that exercise and physical activity will always be a part of their lives. When I see them doing their thing, I still regret not having had more of a chance to do team sports when I was very young.
Sometimes the intensity of their focus on sports makes me a little uncomfortable, though. What about the arts and politics and books and schoolwork? What about the uncoordinated dweebs (like me as a kid!) who aren't so good at sports and whose lack of ability is definitely noticed and commented on? Is there no value seen in those kids and the things they may be good at that aren't sports-related? Is sports important as an end in itself and if so, why? Why so much focus on this activity and this alone? Even after eleven years of being part of the family, I feel a little bewildered by it all. On balance, I admire their lifestyle, but I can't quite put my finger on what it all means to them.