Why I’m Saying No to Travel Sports for My Seven-Year-Old

I never really learned to appreciate summer as an adult until I became a mother. But now that I have two kids – and especially now that they’re ages 5 and 7 – the magic of summer is once again fresh in my mind.

As a child, summer breaks felt as if they went on forever. Along with my brother and sister, I would spend countless hours outside playing ball, looking for crayfish in the nearby creek, and getting as dirty as I could. And like most kids our age, we didn’t have a care in the world. No responsibilities. No big plans each day. Nothing to annoy us except for our mother’s call that dinner was ready.

Now that my kids are getting older, I enjoy seeing them do much of the same – swimming at our neighborhood pool for hours on end, taking walks to the park with our little dog, and riding bikes and scooters in the neighboring cul-de-sac for hours. Sometimes I sit on the porch feeling grateful, thinking, “Does it get any better than this?”

I’m not sure it does. Letting my children enjoy life’s simple wonders has been one of my most rewarding experiences as a mother. Watching my kids chase butterflies in the yard has literally brought me to tears, and seeing life unfold through my children’s eyes brings joy to my life every single day.

I can only hope they’ll look back with the same fond memories I have. So, you can imagine how stressed I was when my daughter was invited to join a team that would take most of the joy out of summer – maybe for all of us.

The Pull of Team Sports

My daughters have been in gymnastics casually for a few years now, but they both have considerable talent. Unlike me, who barely learned a cartwheel despite years of lessons, they took to the sport quickly and learn much faster than most.

Of course, we’ve always been a one-sport family – as in, each kid can be in one sport at a time. But with gymnastics, there is always the pull to “move up” a level and get more and more involved. At the end of spring this year, my seven-year-old was asked to try out for the junior travel team – a commitment that would require up to six hours of training each week over three days.

On weekdays, that would mean getting to the gym from 5:30-7:30 p.m. most nights. Since my husband and I both work until around 4:30 p.m., we would have to pick her up early, feed her a quick and simple dinner, then take her to the gym until almost bedtime. Then it would be bath time, books, and sleep – wash, rinse, and repeat – three days a week.

That doesn’t even take our travel time into account. Since it’s around 20 minutes round-trip to the gym, we would spend about two hours (120 minutes) driving back and forth to pick her up each week.

And it’s actually a lot more than that. When you add in the weekend meets, the unpredictable travel time and costs associated with them, and the driving involved, we’re talking about a huge time commitment for all of us. Not to mention the fact that gymnastics isn’t cheap to begin with.

Gymnastics as a Part-Time Job

When I talked to my daughter about it, she was ecstatic at first. She really wanted to be a good gymnast, she said, and she would do anything to make it happen. So I sat down with her to explain what she would need to do – that is, if we decided as a family that we could make it work.

Joining the team means a lot of things, I told her. With gymnastics three nights per week and meets on some weekends, we wouldn’t be able to go to the pool very much this year. And on most summer weeknights, she wouldn’t see her friends in the neighborhood, either. She would mainly go to childcare and then head straight to the gym until it was almost time for bed.

Once school started, things would get a little more complicated, I explained. Because on top of school and gymnastics, she always has homework. On gymnastics days, when she got off the bus at 3:40 p.m., she would need to do homework until dinner, then head to the gym until 7:30 p.m., take a quick bath, then go to bed.

I could tell by the look on my daughter’s face that it was too much. Like her mother, her facial expressions make her an open book.

“Geez, Mom,” she said. “Sounds like a part-time job to me, and I’m only seven.”

I swear those are the words that came out of her mouth, and I couldn’t help but agree.

It did sound like a part-time job — just one where the reward is talent instead of money. And if my daughter didn’t want to commit so much of her time, I was the last person to try to convince her. Yes, it was a good opportunity, but the level of commitment required seemed nuts for a girl her age.

So we said no. And so far, I think that was the only decision that made sense.

Why We’re Opting Out of Team Sports

At the moment, gymnastics class is just an hour long. So, on a normal week, we spend an hour of our lives (plus 20 minutes travel time) on her sport of choice. For a seven-year-old (and for my other daughter, who is five), that seems perfectly reasonable to me. They can still continue learning and getting better, but without giving up so much.

Both of my daughters have their entire lives ahead of them – they have plenty of time to rush to important meetings, sit in depressing cubicles, and deal with the stresses of life.

They’ll have plenty of years where their free time is severely limited – where they barely have time to keep their lives and their own families in order, let alone enjoy themselves.

And they’ll have decades of unreasonable demands placed on them, many years of which will be spent wishing for a life filled with what they have now – time to breathe in the sunshine, experience the beauty of nature, and well, be a kid.

For now, my kids are going to spend their summers – and their lives – doing what kids do best. They’re going to ride their bikes up and down the street, make mud pies with their friends, and look for potato bugs and worms as the sun goes down. They may not be the world’s best gymnasts one day because of it, but they won’t give up their childhoods, either.

Part-time jobs can wait. This can wait. For now, I’m going to let my kids be kids for as long as I can.

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