Family Time vs Child Sports - Parent Question & Answer

I would like to know, which is more important in the life of a child ... child sports or family time?


When I get a questions like this, asking me to choose between this or that, I wonder if I am being used to settle an on-going argument between a child's parents. Asking a question like this is like saying, which is more important in the life of a child, food or love?

Of course, when we're talking about things like food and love, the answer is both.

When we're talking about the importance of a family time versus the importance of child sports, the answer is that it depends on the child and the parents.

Obviously, family time is essential to the healthy emotional development of a child, but if the child truly loves sports and aspires to be an athlete of his own accord (rather than for the sake of one or both his parents), then child sports events can turn into opportunities for spending family quality time. Although this is not the same as playing a board game together on a Sunday night, the child gets to participate in what he loves and the parents get to be there to support, engage and champion his efforts.

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As the author of a book about helping a child develop his natural strengths, I am all for engaging a child in his interests and helping him refine them over time. As the mother of two athletes, I know that some parents push child sports so hard that kids who aren't yet teenagers end up with overuse injuries that sports medicine doctors typically see only in seasoned athletes.

It concerns me that some parents push their children to excel at child sports at any cost. Such parents eat, drink and sleep sports and live vicariously through their kids. They scream at their children from the stands and argue incessantly with umpires and coaches. This is far from being enjoyable family time for their children.

As I write this article, my youngest son (who is ten) is in the midst of the district All Star Little League Championships. One boy on the team (who is only nine) has a private pitching coach and all the equipment money can buy.

Child sports can provide opportunities for family time, but it should be balanced by spontaneous play and unstructured togetherness.

While there's nothing wrong with giving your child the tools to do his very best, a personal pitching coach at age 9 seems a bit extreme. Yesterday, the mother of this boy whom I had not met before, approached me and told me point blank that her son was the best first baseman she had ever seen. I smiled and said, "And this is your son you're talking about?" She was a bit put off by my tone, but I wanted to make a point because I realized in that moment how wrapped up her identity is in her child's performance in baseball.To be quite honest, I found her a little crazy.

As a Little League mom, I am painfully aware of how much pressure some parents and coaches put on kids to perform. If kids are shuttled back and forth between pitching coaches, Little League games and practices for traveling teams, when do they have time to relax and be kids? Some of these kids even play in more than one league. Or they're playing more than one sport per season.

As an advocate of children, I find this extreme. Like us, children need down time. They need family time without a spotlight on their performance.

In other words, they need a sense of balance in their lives. They need picnics in the park, walks on the beach and time spent wrestling their dad on the living room floor or catching frogs in the backyard pond.

Besides, when you think about your childhood, what do you remember most? Do you look back with fondness on organized child sports or do you remember the baseball games you used to play in an open field with the kids in your neighborhood? My boys have never had as much fun as the home run derbies they've organized themselves by calling up friends on the spur of the moment. No umps, no stats, no over-the-top parents—just a bunch of kids getting together and having fun.

Unstructured togetherness—family time that has no purpose other than simply hanging out—creates lasting memories and bonds that endure. Such experiences help a child feel good about himself simply because he is. This is what childhood should be focused on.

About the author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting which combines ancient native concepts (such as child stewardship) with heart-centered psychology to teach parents how to raise children to develop their innate strengths and grow up to lead lives of purpose and fulfillment. The book offers a journey of self-discovery for child and parent.

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