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Youth Sports: The Slightly-Embarrassing, Kinda-Selfish Reason I’m Glad My Kid Plays

Erin Zammett Ruddy

I’m often conflicted about youth sports—how they start so early, how it gets so competitive so fast, how cuckoo some of parents can be—but I’m starting to see some real benefits (for me!) and I’m loving it. Here’s what I mean:

Alex’s first foray into organized sports was soccer tots when he was three. And it sucked. He was more interested in checking out the vending machine than listening to his coach. Then came 4s soccer, which was on an actual field with practices and real games and was a little better but involved a lot of pushing and beehiving around the ball and silliness with his teammates. Now Alex is 5 and on his third season of real practices and games and we all love it. Alex adores his team and coaches, the games are super fun to watch, and the kid can play. He listens(ish) and he learns and he is so proud of himself. It helps that he’s obsessed with the sport (partly because his beloved uncle played pro soccer back in Argentina) and that he wants to be Lionel Messi when he grows up.  

But all these good vibes and experiences that Alex is having pale in comparison to the selfish reason I’m loving it. The newfound perk: I get to play with him and it’s actually fun. Of course I didn’t mind kicking him the soccer ball or pitching a wiffle or tossing a football when he was little and uncoordinated but the fact that he can trap and kick and bat and throw and catch pretty well now A. makes my job easier (not so much bending!) and B. makes it a hell of a lot more engaging and C. gives me a real work out. I played soccer in my backyard with Alex and my nephew, Andrew, for nearly two hours on Sunday. It was legit, run-sweat-score, water-break-needed competition. I was wearing jeans when I started kicking the ball around with them but within a few minutes I had to go inside and put on shorts. And then it was on. I had to hand out a few yellow cards (my nephew is super competitive and mouthy—"That was a terrible pass, Aunt Erin, gheesh" was a common refrain—and my son is super handsy and agressive with his mouthy cousin) but all in all it was a successful schrimage. 

I played a bunch of sports growing up but volleyball and soccer are the two I really focused on. Volleyball won out in the end, but I still played soccer right through senior year of high school (we were NY state champions, as a matter of fact, and ranked No. 1 in the nation—shameless brag, I apologize). Anyway, my point is, while I was hardly a star, I do know how to play soccer and I love the game and the fact that Alex is into it means I get to brush off my (very dusty) skills and school him a little. About an hour into our shenanigans on Sunday my brother-in-law came over and played keeper (we have a mini goal in our backyard) so it got really interesting—and really intense since he wasn’t letting anyone score (dude is competitive). It was so much fun and after everyone left and we ate lunch, Alex took a two-hour nap with his sister. Bonus points! And I was legitimately sore when I woke up yesterday morning (I’m still a little bit stiff which says a lot about the shape I’m in). I exercise a lot but it usually involves me, my treadmill, and Bravo. So to be outside running up and down my backyard, kicking defending, scoring and, yes, taking a few shots to the gut, was awesome. I can actually play with my kid, not just humor him, and that makes me wildly happy. One of the many perks of moving past the little kid stage and into the big kid stage. So, are your kids old enough to play sports with you? Do you get sweaty and dirty with them or are you a spectator? (Full disclosure: I do not love pitching baseballs to Al--so not as much fun.) Any other thoughts on youth sports? The topic will be coming up again on this blog very soon so stay tuned!