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When My Daughter Quit Kids’ Sports

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May 20, 2016

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I was in my daughter’s room the other day and came upon her football jerseys lying in the back of the closet. I took them out and looked at them closely. Kids’ sports jerseys are amazing. The designs look like they belong to a professional club. Alas, my daughter opted not to sign up for the upcoming season. So the likelihood of the jerseys being seen again are remote.

I have mixed feelings about this. I grew up playing sports myself and admiring athletic friends. As an adult, I am fully consumed with watching international football, particularly the English Premier League. So I would love for my daughter to be some kind of football superstar.

When I was young, we played sports mainly for the simple purpose of getting outside with friends or neighbours. We played in the streets and empty fields to pass the time. When we played on organized teams, we played in poorly fitting shirts, the felt lettering for our team’s name falling off the fabric. When I see pictures of myself at my daughter’s age I laugh at how simple and ridiculous we looked.

So it’s unnerving to see the professionalization of kids’ sports, and I’m a little glad my daughter is out of it. For one thing, the cost of participation has skyrocketed, making a single sport less accessible to the average family and participation in more than one very difficult. The uniforms cost a fortune, for starters. Add to it the cost of camps, registration and other fees, and the overall expense is close to the cost of a good motorbike in India. For a game you can play with a ball on an empty field, this is an extreme level of commitment.

The same can be said for other kids’ sports like tennis, basketball and field hockey. These are sports through which kids can earn precious full-tuition scholarships to pay for their higher education. The games played by children are now featured on national television, while adults rank and rate the juvenile players on national lists, something I find bothersome because of the pressure it heaps on children.

Ironically, if there is one sport here that is still somewhat pure, it’s cricket. Cricket has always been a popular sport in regions where South Asians are concentrated, and, in the States, its purpose has always been a force of social cohesion among a group of people far from home. But even cricket is starting to go the football way; leagues have sprung up and the game is being played by reasonably skilled junior amateurs in a much more organized fashion.

I have mixed feelings about this. How soon until cricket becomes an expensive and exclusive pastime? Will we soon see parents charging toward the wicket to argue with an umpire over an LBW while a child looks on awkwardly? Will there be a day when cricket academies take hold and children are expected to specialize in the sport from a young age and move far from their parents? How soon until cricket succumbs to the same commercial and professional impulses of other American sports?

As I folded my daughter’s uniform and put it on a high shelf – the kind of act that silently admits it’s unlikely this shirt will be worn again – I reconciled myself that it is perhaps best she prefers to play with dolls or pony figurines, even if it means our house is awash with awful glitter. (It’s everywhere.)

My wife very kindly reminded me I had gone off the deep end with all the pacing up and down the sideline, worrying about every pass and miskick. Apparently, I had fallen prey to the very thing I hated most about kids’ sports today.

She rightly noted that whether my daughters choose a sport or none at all, it must be their choice for their own reasons, and not something they do because they think they have to be grateful for their opportunities or because they owe me something as a parent. It’s easy to forget that when you’re daydreaming about your future Olympian.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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